back to article Amazon workers in Germany stage Christmas strike

Amazon workers are striking yet again in Germany, hoping to put pressure on the etailer over the Christmas shopping period. Trade union Verdi called on employees last week to start a three-day strike at warehouses in Bad Hersfeld, Leipzig, Graben, Rheinberg and Werne, starting yesterday. Yet the union has now added a sixth …

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logistics?

I order one of something from Amazon, it's delivered by mail, I'd humbly suggest that the people taking it off the warehouse shelf and putting it in the post are probably working in mail-order and retail. If they were sorting out the loading and routing of a container-full then it's logistics.

Another fail for amazon. Perhaps they should see if they could buy a dictionary by mail order?

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Re: logistics?

The law is kind of weird. How can different industries have different rules? If there is a good reason for this, how come the industries can be defined so loosely as to invite confusion? It feels to me like studying the reasons the rules were written differently at the time they were written would make it clear whether they should apply to Amazon employees…

Anyway, since this is a legal matter, why isn't it decided once and for all by a judge?

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Re: logistics?

I would humbly agree. If I go into a shop and ask the lady for a packet of cigarettes, the fact that she has to walk over to the cigarette counter, lift the packet of cigarettes from the shelf and return them to the counter does not suddenly put her into the logistics industry.

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Re: logistics?

Where is their bricks and mortar retail shop? Their workers work in warehouses, that is logistics...

The problem is, the rest of the argument from the unions has a lot of merit. If they would accept that if you work in a warehouse fulfilling orders, then that is logistics, then unions would achieve far more.

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Re: logistics? @ratfox

Retail workers in Germany work in a shop and are expected to work between 08:00 and 20:00, generally and not on Sundays.

A logistics worker works shifts around the clock (usually a 3 shift system) and can work on Sundays and they receive a shift allowance and Sunday working bonus commensurate to the fact that they are expected to work shifts.

Shop workers on the other hand are generally not expected to work lots of overtime (i.e. after 20:00 or before 08:00) on a regular basis and they therefore get a bigger "out of core hours" bonus than workers that are expected to work outside core business hours.

That is why Verdi are trying to get the shift workers in the warehous classed as shop workers, because they would get huge shift bonuses, because working after 20:00 in retail isn't normal.

(Don't forget, late opening - later than 20:00 - is very unusual in Germany and opening on Sundays is still illegal for most shops; again some take the fines as part of business and open 2 or 3 times a year on a Sunday. In fact, until about a decade ago, most shops shut at around 14:00 on a Saturday!)

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Re: logistics? @ratfox

Late and Sunday opening depends on where you live. The supermarkets near me are open till 22:00 or midnight and we also have the kiosks or petrol stations who exploited loopholes in existing legislation to supply after closing. Late opening is largely a function of the ability to employ people part-time in underfinanced mini-jobs: the missing contributions to health and unemployment insurance, and pensions will have to be made up by the taxpayer in the future. I try and avoid going to the shops after 20:00 as there is almost always time during the day. It was different when I first came to Germany where the idea was very much that only housewives did the shopping.

The city-state of Berlin has let the ban on Sunday trading fall entirely.

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Re: logistics? @ratfox

Hi Charlie,

yeah, we have one market (K+K) who opens to midnight during the week, although no shops are open on Sundays (except bakeries early in the morning for fresh bread and rolls), unless the whole town has a Verkaufsoffener Sonntag, which is a couple of times a year, one being in the run up to Christmas. K+K seems to be the exception to the rule here (Lower Saxony, around Osnabruck).

And I wasn't including pertrol stations as they have generally always been 24/7 (although you can't wash your car on a Sunday, as that is State Law). I don't think we have any kiosks around here.

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Re: logistics? @ratfox

The city of Berlin tried to, and then got overruled by the federal courts. Sunday trading laws are the most relaxed in Berlin, but they do exist.

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Re: logistics?

Anyway, since this is a legal matter, why isn't it decided once and for all by a judge?

I was wondering that too.

Surely there has to come a point where it is recognised in law that Amazon has made its choice. If the union want to over turn that they should be forced to do so in court. Striking on and off forever more may be a good deal if you're a union rep, but will eventually damage Amazons business, affecting not only customers and share holders, but all those staff that don't agree with the strike.

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Re: logistics?

The legal matter is clear:

Amazon does not have to join a trade association (Unternehmerverband) and does not have to deal with a union. The state has clear non interference rules. And there is always the question wether verdi actually IS "Tariffähig" (empowered to run negotiations) when it comes to Amazon (and logistics in general) since they have a less than 10 percent membership rate with Amazon Logistics. And according to laws a union must be strong enough to fight through for its members (Mächtigkeitsprinzip).

That is one of the reasons why verdi does NOT try to negotiate a better logistics tarrif, the big companies like OTTO/Hermes might decide to ask the "Empowerment" question and kick out verdi completely. And then they might look at other contracts (OTTO/Hermes is partially logistics and partially retail tarif)

So there is no case for the court. The workers have a right to join verdi (for what it is worth) and go on strike and Amazon has the right to ignore them, hire a few thousand extra temps and/or redirect traffic to Poland.

The long term effects are not part of the law currently. That is due to the fact that union in germany until the 1990s had two forms

IG's with a 80+ percent membership and the power to fight through

They knew that too much/too long would cost jobs. AND they had to pay a lot of strikers (Union pays it's members "wages" (Streikgeld) when the employer sais "workers go home" / Lockout due to a strike). So strikes where short, last resort and to the point. And they always had a good idea "what can we get, where will the company stop"

The unions that became verdi that never had to strike because the state payed

That changed in the 1990s when the ÖTV (public service and transport) garbage men went on strike and the state said "go away". End result was a loss of support after three weeks of no garbage service, an acceptance of a lousy deal and the femal boss of ÖTV running away to Brussels.

Never the less the verdi guys never learned how to deal on equal level or even on a lower level with their employers and it still shows.

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Re: logistics?

And news just in: The Bundesverwaltungsgericht (Federal Administrative Court) has just strengthened the Sunday and Bank Holiday Trading laws, shops which are open until midnight cannot force their workers to perform clearing up work after the shop has closed at midnight, if the next day is a Sunday or a bank holiday. (Source: Lebensmittel Praxis)

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"How can different industries have different rules?"

Due to the Briefmonopol laws.

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Re: "How can different industries have different rules?"

Besides being dead for anything "Amazon sized" for a decade or so the "Briefmonopol" has absolutely NOTHING to do with this. BM was a rules than only "The Gilb" aka Germans state owned Bundespost could deliver any kind of mail. That has long stopped for packages of any size. DHL, Her(p|m)es, Uuups etc. all deliver.

What rules of payment (if any) apply depends on what "Unternehmerverband" (businessmen's or trade association) a company has joined (if any) and if that association has a wage agreement with a union. A logistics worker in the mining industrie (they have quite large storage/distribution departments) will be payed by IGBCE(1) since the german mining companies have a treaty with that one. One working for Volksthingies will be IGM(1) since car manufacturers made treaties with those. And the poor guys at Hermes are with Verdie so they are underpayed (verdis logistics tarrif is a piece of shit) and overworked.

Since we have "liberty of coalation" for both workers and employers a company can always elect NOT to join any trade association. In that case any wage agreements are done between the company and the employees. Amazon has gone that way as have most IT companies (BITCOM is not working as a trade associatian and no engineer wants verdi as a union(3))

(1)Industiral Union of Miners, Chemical Workers and Energy/Powercompany workers

(2)Industrial Union of Metalworkers

(3)One look at verdi's origins and key personal and you know they do not care for you, won't understand the needs/ways of anyone not working 9-17 (1h lunch brake, state employed preferable)

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Anonymous Coward

Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

I know we don't historically get along too well with the germans, but saying they're revolting while unprovoked is a bit much isn't it?

On the topic of if they're logistics or retail / mail order. I'm unsure, however I lean towards logistics.

This is on the basis that retail and mail order are both defined as purchase and sale. Retail would be direct (in person) and mail order would be remote.

The amazon website itself acts as a mail order system, you order the items from your home, amazon processes the stocks they have in the warehouse, takes payment and organizes it to be shipped. This process is the limit of mail order.

What happens from that point onwards is logistics.

(From wikipedia) Logistics is the management of the flow of goods between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet some requirements, of customers or corporations.

The point of origin it could be argued, are the shelves in the warehouse where the items are stored, from there somebody is sent to pick out the items relating to an order, confirm the correct items, package them, label them, move them to the correct shipping location (I would imagine they have different trucks going to different countries etc). This entire portion of the supply chain would be considered logistics. On that basis I would have to side with amazon.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

Mail-order companies are traditionally treated as retail in Germany.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

"Mail-order companies are traditionally treated as retail in Germany."

Whilst it seems daft that the state sets these different rules for different sectors, if that's the local model then Amazon should go along with it.

Of course, if Amazon have their hand forced on this, they are unlikely to take it lying down, so it should be interesting to see if Verdi are happy with whatever unintended consequences there will be from this if it concludes in Verdi's favour. Get the popcorn, draw up a chair.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

See my other post: the state is hardly involved in this at all, which makes a nice change. In fact, if the state had bothered to do its work properly (namely apply the Entsendegesetz to sectors with wages blatantly below regional averages) there wouldn't even be the need for a national minimum wage because the deals between unions and employers would apply.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

Yes and no. The biggest german mail order company (OTTO Versand-Hamburg(1)) has a split similar to Amazon. The logistics branch is called Hermes (or Herpes by many customers(2)) and that is well known for LOUSY pay and treatment of employees. The "oldtimers" get paid retail but new ones are lucky if the get "logistics" (and that pays less than Amazons wages)

And Zalando (biggest european clothed mail order) has shown verdi the "binary four" hand signal as well and has contract terms that are "interesting" (barely above the minimum wage, mostly short term etc.)

(1) That is a "generalist" just like Amazon. It's just that they have multiple "personalities" for their store system

(2) Q: How do you get Hermes to deliver your refrigerator to the second floor

A: Ambush them when they try to put the "you where not here" card in WITHOUT ringing the bell

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

State is totally uninvolved. Corporations choose freely if they deal with a union and/or join a business association. Amazon did neither, that is one of verdi's problems. No spoils/positions for the union...

As for the strikes "effektiveness": Amazon Logistics currently employs about 20.000 people (half/half permanent and short term). The higher number in the strike says 2300 of those are not working. Hardly a problem with delivery times reported (all orders in the family come in fine either today or tomorrow) and you can bet that Amazon expected a red socks attack during this time of the year and "overhired" a bit.

So far all reports say "delivery as usual". Just a slightly higher count of packages from Poland than last year but that might be due to the new logistics centers that came online 2014.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

Amazon's mail order company is located in Luxembourg, and pays various logistics company divisions around Europe to fulfil the orders. That is how they manage to not pay any tax.

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Re: Frequently-revolting staff stomp off for three days

On the topic of if they're logistics or retail / mail order. I'm unsure, however I lean towards logistics.

Amazon is a logistics business; that is how it defines itself, and that is where it focusses its R&D money that would otherwise be taxable profit. That Amazon regard itself, globally, as a logistics business is not a suprise to any of its staff, so quite why some trumped up little union feels it has the right to try to redesignate Amazons business segment for their own convenience is beyond me.

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Due to the Briefmonopol laws.

No, not least because the monopoly on delivering letters fell several years ago.

In Germany there is something called Tarifautonomie which means that unions and employers are responsible for negotiating wages and politics is kept out. Unions and employers collectively decide what branches there are and terms and conditions are negotiated for entire branches on a state-by-state basis. Agreements usually contain opt-out clauses for individual companies as long as their works council's agree. The system has worked very well for years because it is efficient: individual companies do not have to devote resources to negotiating conditions and strike days are kept to a minimum. As a result German companies can afford to pay workers more than in other countries due to the increased productivity, as in the case from approx. 2000-2012, agree on pay increases below inflation to regain competitivity.

There are outliers with employers refusing to play by the rules using several techniques: cherry-picking or even setting up a compliant union with which to negotiate; sub-contracting to foreign companies who are exempt from the rules unless the federal government says otherwise (building work is not exempt, abattoirs are); or deciding that they belong to a different branch. Non-German companies often adopt confrontational positions until they understand how much easier and more profitable it is if they follow the rules.

We've also got a couple of smaller unions pulling an ASLEF: bringing a whole company to a halt even though they only represent a small section of employees. The German equivalent of ASLEF the GDL seems to be copying their militant tactics with Klaus Weselski every bit as militant as Bob Crow or Arthur Scargill. The pilots are doing the same. The end result, I fear, maybe a weakening or all employees' rights as well as bringing forward fully automated trains and planes.

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And quite a few companies do not work with unions for various reasons at all. THAT is also quite legal, no one is forced to join a trade association. IT generally has none since the union would be verdi and anyone with a pay grade above "roomsweeper" will not find verdi a good union. IF IT cooperates with a union it is typically one of the IGs (IGBCE mostly) for historical reasons. Only big IT that does verdi is T-Systems. And to quote a T-Systems engineer on uses for verdi: "Practice target for the 5inch gun, they are so hollow, they'll float"

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Holmes

agree on pay increases below inflation to regain competitivity

Pretty interesting as the stated aim of money printing (aiding in eradicating state debt and make well-connected mandarins rich, among others) was exactly to fool workers into believing that they paycheck was going up, while in actuality it was not.

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The Workers are Revolting ?

Throw then some Cake, its on Prime!

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Bah!

All zis striekink.

It makes you vonder how zey ever annexed ze Sudetenland.

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Re: Bah!

Tankers would be IG Metal. The IGs usually do not (need to) strike but rather bargain effectively. So while the tankers where busy annexing, the union was busy negotiating.

Well in reality there was no "union" back then, they woke up on May 2nd with a huge hangover and found the SA had occupied the union houses. Today we still have the 1. May as a national holliday.

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Holmes

Re: Bah!

> It makes you vonder how zey ever annexed ze Sudetenland.

That was easy because it used to belong to the Wilhemine Reich and the Sudeten, freshly empowered, were behaving less than adequately to ethnic germans, which were forbidden to partake in the "self-determination of people" for some reason or other.

> SA had occupied the union houses.

In a very concrete sense, SA *was* the union.

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Re: Bah!

Post 2. May 1934 the DAF (Deutsche Arbeiter Front - German workers front/group) became the "single union" for all workers until May 1945.

But before that the SA normally way not "the union". The unions where close to the then VERY Leftwing Social Democrats (1) and / or the slightly more left wing Kommunist Party. And organised in their own "combat groups" like the DKP "Rotfront"

(1) The (west)german socialists (SPD) became a modern "general party" only after the "Godesberger Programm" of 1959. Until then it sounded a lot like the (east)german SED

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Reasoning for multiple rules for different industries

The purpose of different sets of rules for different industries is that each industry has very different work conditions. Like how it is reasonable to ask a delivery man to walk 20+ miles a day where it would be cruel to force an office worker to do the same. Of course the easiest solution might be to create an additional industry to address this business model; give it the pay of a retail/mail order worker but without the hours restrictions. Amazon's business model is different than anything that has come before it, so it doesn't fit into the current laws, so thus the laws should change to take Amazon and other such businesses into account.

Beside, all western countries have similar regulations as well.

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Amazon workers will be replaced

Amazon is starting to replace warehouse workers with drones and robots. At some point in the near future most of the low level workers will be replaced - striking will just speed up the tipping point.

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Read the comments above, and the article on French lawmakers against Uber, Spanish ones against Google. Then reflect - this is why the EU is only going to shrink from now - steady decline, the rot comes from within.

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