Amazon faces ‘biggest strike in Europe’ this week

Amazon

Online retail giant Amazon is facing its first possible strike in Spain and what will be the company’s largest in Europe to date.

The store, which started out life as an internet-based book, record and video shop and has now branched out into clothing, cosmetics, electronics and even food, has only had its own division in Spain since 2011 and, since then, it has opened three huge logistics centres in the country – one each in El Prat de Llobregat and Martorelles (Barcelona province) and one in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid).

The Madrid delivery centre, the first of the two to open, employs 1,100 people on permanent contracts and a further 900 temporary workers, all of whom have been called by their union to join a 48-hour strike over Wednesday and Thursday this week (March 21 and 22).

Staff representatives say Amazon is trying to force a new logistics industry-wide working conditions agreement on them, substituting the existing one which was unique to the firm, and which will lead to a reduction in their rights.

The new agreement affects issues such as wages being guaranteed, job titles, overtime pay and sick or holiday pay.

Following strikes at Amazon in Germany, France and Italy in the last few months, the industrial action in Madrid is likely to be the biggest the company has ever seen in Europe.

“Never before has a strike declaration been preceded by a workers’ assembly vote, and never before has such an overwhelming majority – 75% – voted in favour of industrial action,” say union representatives.

They have been trying to pact a renewal of the existing working conditions agreement for months – it was signed in 2015 and expired on New Year’s Eve in 2016, but has been temporarily renewed pending the outcome of negotiations.

Unions say Amazon has not offered any guarantees of pay rises in line with inflation and is attempting to ‘cheapen’ specialist roles by axing certain job titles and spreading the workload among employees farther down the company hierarchy who, in line with their lower positions, are earning less.

The firm is also planning to reduce the rate of pay for overtime and to stop the 100% salary cover for sick pay.

In Spain, sick leave is paid by the State up to a maximum of 18 months, but normally falls some way short of a worker’s usual salary, meaning many firms have an agreement in place to top up statutory sick pay to the full wage.

But Amazon wants to stop doing so, claim staff unions.

“When the centre first opened in 2012, absenteeism was very low, but it’s now practically double the average in the logistics industry, because there are fewer of us and our workload has become brutal,” said a representative.

“A typical employee at the San Fernando centre will walk between 20 and 25 kilometres a day.”

An Amazon spokesperson says: “We shall continue to maintain direct dialogue with our associates and continue to guarantee the best possible working conditions and a competitive remuneration package, a great working atmosphere and excellent career progression opportunities.”

Anyone ordering goods through Amazon.es this week may experience delivery delays as a result of the strike action.