Dec 16 - Workers at Amazon.com's German operations take strike action, in the middle of the crucial Christmas holiday season, in a dispute over pay that has been raging for months. Sonia Legg reports
It was a strike meant to have maximum impact. Hundreds of workers at Amazon's German operations downed tools as pre-Christmas sales were set to peak. It's the latest in a series of short strikes this year. Heiner Reimann is a Verdi union official. (SOUNDBITE) (German) VERDI UNION OFFICIAL, HEINER REIMANN, SAYING: "We demand from Amazon that they sign a labour agreement with us based on retail industry regulations. This would mean Amazon employees newly starting in the company would earn about 7,000 euros more per year. We also demand humane working conditions and salaries which allow for decent living conditions." Germany is Amazon's second biggest market behind the United States. Sales there grew almost 21% last year to $8.7 billion dollars - that's a third of its overseas total. Amazon employs 9,000 warehouse staff at nine German distribution centres, plus 14,000 seasonal workers. It said only 640 workers had failed to turn up for the early shift, but there had been no delays so far. One plant manager was certainly confident deliveries were on track. SOUNDBITE: Martin Andersen, Site manager, saying (German): "Christmas trade is running according to plan. We're pleased about very, very good sales figures. Yesterday we saw very, very strong charge rates, as we call it here, and that's across the entire network, so we can reach our customers on time." But the union is planning further pre-Christmas strikes. It's even sent a delegation to Amazon's head office in Seattle. It wants to force the company to accept German collective bargaining agreements instead of employing staff on its own terms and conditions. Amazon's German boss says he's more worried about weather delays. He insists the company pays well according to industry standards. And the higher salaries that apply to the wider mail order and retail sector aren't justified as many of the staff are largely unskilled.