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Amazon denied emergency Covid-19 money as French unions call request “scandalous”

A truck driver wears a mask at the Amazon warehouse in Lauwin-Planque, northern France on 19 March 2020.
A truck driver wears a mask at the Amazon warehouse in Lauwin-Planque, northern France on 19 March 2020. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
2 min

France's labour ministry has denied the US retail giant Amazon from accessing emergency funds to pay its staff due to the Covid-19 warehouse shutdown. The company is only allowed to sell essential items online.

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Amazon had initially approached the French courts in order to force the hand of labour unions to allow employees to work.

The labour ministry said that Amazon France asked for funds to cover 84% net pay of some 10,000 workers who were temporarily laid off because of the drop in business.

Amazon France operates six distribution sites throughout the country.

Unions say staff at risk at Amazon France

French labour unions maintain that Amazon had not done enough to ensure social distancing of two metres for their staff. However, new orders were still being processed, while measures required to curtail the spread of Covid-19 were being neglected.

The pandemic has forced most bricks-and-mortar shops in France to close, in line with the government requirements, with only essential outlets such as grocery stores and bakeries being allowed to remain open.

In April, an appeals court upheld a ruling that drastically reduced Amazon’s operations and called on its management to re-examine their safety measures. The court indicated that only digital products, office equipment, groceries, medical and personal care products could be delivered for the time being.

Amazon claimed it was unable to operate in that fashion, and consequently shut its six warehouses from mid-April until 5 May, while paying employees a full wage.

"The recent decision by the Court of Versailles has obviously had an impact on our French operations... As a result, we filed for the help that other companies in France have benefitted from," the company said in a statement.

"Our logistics operations are technically complex and the court's fine of €100,000 for any infraction means that even accidental shipping of non-authorised products, on the order of 0.1% of the total, could lead to over one billion euros of fines per week," it added.

But the Amazon parent company said last week that although it was dealing with a sharp uptake in orders despite Covid-19 lockdowns, its profits dropped 29% in the first quarter of 2020 because, in part, of measures it implemented for “keeping employees safe.”

In France, dozens of employees walked off the job before the ruling to demand improved workplace protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

Unions called Amazon France's request for employment aid "absolutely scandalous."

The unions claim that Amazon France is fulfilling French orders by using other warehouses in Europe.

 

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