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Amazon in Poland

Eva Krafczyk / sgbDecember 16, 2014

As Amazon employees in Germany go on strike, the company has opened three new logistics centers in Poland. They will largely serve the German market, as Amazon does not have e-commerce operations in Poland.

Amazon distribution center in Poland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/J. Kaczmarczyk

The comments in Polish newspapers were a little smug: "Poles work while Germans strike." The 4,500 permanent and 7,500 seasonal employees at online retail giant Amazon's three Polish distribution centers have plenty to do - and that includes fulfilling Christmas orders from Germany.

In late September, the first shipment made its way to Germany from one of Amazon's Polish distribution centers. It followed a trial run that had lasted several weeks. Employees in the two centers in Wroclaw and the third in Poznan had practiced their jobs until things were running like clockwork.

"We are pleased that our presence in Europe will be extended by three logistics centers in Poland, and that we will create thousands of permanent jobs," Tim Collins, Amazon Europe's director of operations, said at the grand opening. He said Poland's central location in Europe was crucial in the site selection.

Lower wages

Amazon's European network has 28 logistics centers, including Poland and the Czech Republic, allows it to make deliveries on time despite walkouts in Germany, the online retailer has said repeatedly. Poland's lower wages are likely to have played a role in the decision to locate there. Warehouse employees earn an average of 13 zloty ($3.8, or 3.1 euros) per hour. In Germany, similar jobs pay about 10 euros. But for Polish standards, this is an above-average hourly wage for low-skilled or unskilled labor.

Building agreement for Amazon distribution center
Amazon began to build the centers only in 2013.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The company also offers unusual extra services, such as free transportation to work. But employees at the company's distribution centers aren't completely satisfied. Polish media has repoted on lawsuits about issues such as long work paths at the warehouses. "This is not sustainable," an Amazon employee complained in an email to news portal "Wirtualna Polska." Each center has an area of approximately 95,000 square meters - equivalent to 13 football fields. According to Amazon, plans call for between 500,000 to 600,000 packets are to be delivered daily from the Polish centers.

No Amazon.pl

Economy Minister Janusz Piechocinski called the investment per site - about 100 million euros - a "milestone for economic growth in Poland." Aditional workers have been hired for the holiday shopping season. Depending on the workload, some of them may end up with a longer-term job. A four-day week is in effect at the Polish centers, but with a working day of ten hours.

But Warsaw economist Grzegorz Gorzelak, an expert on regional development, said Amazon's impact on the Polish labor market is small. "These are low-quality jobs that provide little benefit for the region."

He compared them to jobs at big supermarket chains: "They create low-wage jobs, but because of the prices, small shops are forced to close down."

In Poland itself, Amazon is not active in online trade - to the relief of both traditional and online retailers. Rafal Brzoska of shipping service InPost warned a few months ago that if Amazon began selling in Poland, many existing companies would be forced out of business: "Polish online retailers would be threatened with bankruptcy. They can't compete with margins like Amazon's."