Of the slightly more than 386,000 million dollars that the American company Amazon has invoiced in 2020, 29,500 million dollars come from the business that the magnate Jeff Bezos does in Germany. These figures, registered in the year of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the COVID-19 virus, show that this Internet giant is one of the great winners in times of economic depression imposed by the new agent. infectious.
The fight of a Spanish worker against Amazon labor abuses in Germany
However, Amazon, at least from Germany, is receiving compromising news these days. Specifically, the firm in Germany is criticized for how it is taking care of its employees in times of pandemic. This April an investigation by various media, including the Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and public radio-television networks NDR Y WDR, It gave an account of how in the Amazon logistics center of the municipality of Winsen (north German) employees have been prohibited from using FFP2 masks.
In Winsen, where about 1,800 people work for Amazon, the barrier the company wants to see over the mouth and nose of its employees are surgical masks, not FFP2. Documents and testimonies made public by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and company confirm it.
Ivonne Hasch, who has worked in that Amazon fulfillment center until mid-April, described the situation to those media. “I would have preferred to wear an FFP2 mask, because it offers more protection than a surgical mask,” Hasch said. In fact, she suggested using an FFP2 for her superiors. But they replied that these masks were prohibited. The same thing gave them that these barriers better protect against aerosols and droplets in which SARS-CoV-2 can travel.
In one of the information documents to Amazon employees in Winsen on what type of masks to use at work, FFP2 masks were crossed out with a forbidden symbol, while a green authorization sign appeared on surgical masks.
“Only the disposable surgical masks we provide can be used in the workplace, unless you have a certificate stating that you must use the FFP2 mask. If you have a certificate of this type, contact the local human resources team ”, reads the Amazon document leaked to the media.
The argument that workers like Hasch have encountered for not being able to use that FFP2 mask was basically an allusion to the current recommendation of the German Association for Social Accident Insurance (DGUV, for its German acronym). This argues that using an FFP2 mask in a work environment like Amazon’s in Winsen requires pauses. Namely, for every one hour and fifteen minutes of work, half-hour breaks must be made, according to the DGUV.
“With those breaks, we were going to work less,” Hasch said, alluding to the reason why apparently those masks do not like on Amazon.
“Immense pressure ”on employees
Winsen’s Amazon Fulfillment Center is preceded by fame. That center has already made headlines for maintaining “immense pressure” on workers in the parcel shipping chains, according to the expression of one of the workers at that center who spoke last fall for the left-wing Berlin daily Die Tageszeitung.
According to a report in said newspaper entitled “Working conditions at Amazon: fatal surveillance”, there was a computerized monitoring of “how many packages per minute” they handled for each employee. This is a context that the specialist in the world of work Peter Birke, of the Institute of Sociological Research in Göttingen, has described as “systemic pressure” for the workers.
In addition, Winsen has already seen outbreaks of coronavirus among its employees. The German Newsroom Network (RND, for its German acronym) recalled when reporting the bans on FFP2 masks in Winsen that there, last May, more than 50 workers were infected with the pandemic virus. Last December, in the Bayreuth and Garbsen centers there were two outbreaks that left more than 310 infected.
Amazon “belongs to the winners of the pandemic”
It does not seem to be a coincidence that other experts from the German world of work, such as Klaus Dörre, from the Institute of Sociology at the University of Jena, have described how Amazon is behaving towards its employees as “scandal”. “The company has achieved immense benefits in the pandemic, it belongs to the winners of the pandemic with benefits that it has achieved with the work of its workers, but at the same time it avoids giving employees the best health protection measures” Dörre told German public television.
A politician like the Social Democrat Karl Lauterbach, a member of the Bundestag who as a prestigious epidemiologist is one of the authorized voices in the fight against the pandemic, has also joined in the criticism against Amazon, accusing the company of “endangering workers.”
The company, alluded to by the revelations about what happens in Winsen and the comments of experts and relevant voices such as Lauterbach, has defended itself without changing its policy. “We make free surgical masks available to our workers, so we keep our workers protected,” they recently pointed out from Amazon to the RND. Given this reaction, the holder of the Die Tageszeitung on account of the behavior of the Bezos firm in Winsen: “FFP2 masks are not desired at Amazon.”
To the detriment of the better protection of workers, the one baptized here as “discord of the masks” remains open, while Amazon’s business is unstoppable. Since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic, the value of the shares of the American company has practically doubled. If in March of last year the Amazon title cost about 1,550 euros, at the end of this week the company’s share was at 2,872 euros with an upward trend. The distribution giant earned 6,685 million euros in the first quarter of 2021, quadrupling the net profit it recorded in the same period last year.