By Martino Carrera
with contributions from Joelle Diderich
 on March 18, 2020
The U.K. is taxing some digital platforms.

MILAN — As Italy’s lockdown and closure of all nonessential commercial activities throughout the country continues until March 25, e-tailer Amazon is facing countrywide protests from its employees for allegedly disregarding safety measures at some of its plants in Italy.

In particular, workers at the logistics hub in Castel San Giovanni, in the Lombardy regio, on Tuesday went on indefinite strike with the support of local trade unions. How many workers are involved in the strike could not immediately be learned.

Reached by phone, Fisascat-Cisl general secretary Davide Guarini said the trade union is asking “the utmost respect of the measures to safeguard employees that work at labor-intensive and crowded logistics plants. We’re asking the compliance to the governmental protocol, which highlights the safety criteria in the workplace.”

After a nightlong negotiation on March 14, Italy’s government and the country’s unions agreed upon a protocol of safety in the workspace according to which companies are required to sanitize plants after each shift; provide face masks and other personal protective equipment when the one-meter distance between employees cannot be respected, in addition to being allowed to take workers’ temperatures and remove employees that show symptoms of a respiratory disease.

Guarini argued that these measures have been disregarded at Amazon’s hub in Castel San Giovanni, including avoiding gathering at the entrance and exit, and he added “it is understood that employees who turned to the plant’s sickroom with symptoms were not handled according to an adequate protocol of check and control.”

Amazon issued a statement in response to the strike, reiterating that “the well-being of our employees, suppliers and clients is a top priority. We’re strictly following the rules issued by the government and local health-care authorities in order to implement the right measures to contain the sanitary emergency at each location.” They include incremented hygenization treatments, a reorganization of entrance and exit protocols, as well as of the canteen to guarantee employees maintain a distance of one meter among one another.

“We’re constantly monitoring the situation that is rapidly evolving, working in tandem with the local and national authorities to understand the measures to take and prevent any risk. Our employees are promptly informed about any implemented measure,” Amazon noted.

The e-commerce giant added its clients are turning to the platform for essential goods they’re unable to source elsewhere and noted it is prioritizing the shipment of food and health and body-care products, among other categories.

Guarini expressed his discontent with the answer Amazon provided. “We cannot think that everything can bow down to profits,” he said while appreciating that the company is offering all its employees that are required to work extra hours a wage bonus. “We cannot ask citizens to be responsible in their daily lives and then when at work that same responsibility is disregarded by the employers which should grant it. We cannot underestimate that workplaces could potentially become vehicles of infections.”

Despite acknowledging a shortage of face masks, he said Amazon should provide them to its workers, in addition to guaranteeing all the other measures “that can grant employees are affected the least by the infection. I believe the local unions are doing a great job asking the local health-care authorities to intervene.” The Piacenza-based trade unions, including Fisascat-Cisl, Cgil-Filcams, Uiltucs and Ugl, all signed a petition requiring the local health authority to carry out inspections at the site.

Similar concerns surged at Amazon’s Passo Corese and Torrazza Piemontese facilities, in the Lazio and Piedmont regions, respectively, although local trade unions did not go on strike for the time being. “Amazon’s workers are rallying for their health because the e-commerce company is not granting the right protections. The enterprise is favoring productivity and profits over the personal safety of its employees,” noted Tania Sacchetti, confederal secretary of the Cgil trade union. “No shipment delivered in due time is worth risking a contagion for those required to work on it,” she said.

Discontent is also brewing at Amazon warehouses in France. According to press reports, about 300 Amazon workers demonstrated at one of its sites near Orléans on Wednesday, calling on the company to protect workers during the COVID-19 crisis or make it easier for those who are afraid of working to stay away.

A representative for one of the unions representing Amazon warehouse employees in France reportedly claimed that up to 40 percent of Amazon workers in the country had dropped out of work either because of fear over COVID-19 or because their children were now no longer in school and they had to stay at home to watch them.

Union officials could not be reached to confirm the action, but a petition launched on Wednesday, addressed to Amazon France country manager Frédéric Duval, called on the retailer to cease all activities in the country immediately.

François Feijoo, president of Procos, the federation representing specialized trade, said it was too early to say whether online sales had benefited from the closure of stores in France. “Today, some retailers have had to suspend e-commerce anyway because there are warehouses where staffers don’t want to work,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Fevad, the federation of e-commerce and distance selling, said it had not noticed any large-scale disruption to online sales from workers using their “right of withdrawal,” a provision in French labor law that allows workers to stay home if they think their workplace is unsafe – although there is no blanket provision in the event of a pandemic.

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