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Amazon's 'inactivity protocols' under fire

Ben KnightMarch 13, 2015

Amazon has come under more pressure in Germany over its treatment of employees. With a new strike underway, the press published internal reports detailing to the minute where and for how long workers did not work.

Streik bei Amazon
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Endig

Services trade union Verdi, which released the reports, accused Amazon of keeping its workers under surveillance via the mobile devices that all Amazon warehouse workers have to carry round with them to scan parcels.

The resulting reports, which had names and dates redacted, include lines like: "The employee was inactive from 08:15 to 08:17 (2 min). This was seen by ------ (Lead) and ----- (Area Manager). ----- came back from the toilet with ------ (employee). Then she had a conversation with ------ at work station 01-01 in Hall 2. At 08:17 she continued working."

The report added that by taking these unpermitted breaks, "the employee has violated their contractual duty to perform their work." "The interruptions of work should in these cases … been reported to the manager," it read.

Verdi spokesman Stefan Najda also told "Die Welt" newspaper that workers active in the trade union were being especially targeted, a claim that Amazon denied. Amazon declined to comment on the document published by the paper, on the grounds that it wasn't clear from which plant it originated. "We don't know anything," a spokeswoman said. Verdi believes the practice is standard throughout the company.

Wage row

Verdi also believes this is just one of many strategies Amazon uses to pressure potentially critical workers, including offering them compensation deals to leave the company and checking employees' private Facebook profiles for any criticism of Amazon and then sending them warnings.

According to Verdi, the working conditions in Amazon warehouses in Germany are unacceptable, citing extreme pressure, physical exhaustion, and robotic work routines. The union has been embroiled in a wage dispute with the retailer for the past two years, with this Friday's strike at the Leipzig plant, timed to coincide with the run-up to Easter and the Leipzig book fair, representing the latest battle.

Amazon denies all of Verdi's accusations. "Employees at German logistics centers earn very competitive wages," the company said on its website, citing figures of 10.09 euros an hour ($10.68), rising to 12.69 euros an hour after two years.

The company said it would be able to handle the strike by re-routing orders through the rest of its European network, which includes 28 locations.