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20.04.2020 Europe

Amazon extends French warehouse closures, awaits appeal

By RFI
© AFP/Archives
LISTEN APR 20, 2020
© AFP/Archives

The six French warehouses of American online vendor Amazon will stay closed until Wednesday. By then the retailer hopes to successfully appeal a court order restricting its activities. The extended closure comes after a stand-off with unions over sanitary conditions amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Workers had earlier raised concerns over the risks of contagion while fielding shipments and union representatives took the firm to court, saying its health protocols were not good enough.

A French court last week ordered Amazon to restrict its deliveries to bare essentials such as groceries and medical supplies while it makes thorough safety checks.

Amazon however suspended activity in all of its sites, saying that the definition of essential goods was not clear and it could not risk being fined. Instead, it lodged a court appeal now due on 21 April.

One million euro fines too risky
"We're waiting with interest for our appeal to be heard," the company said on Sunday, adding that warehouse employees would have to stay at home until at least 22 April.

Amazon had previously said the closures would apply until at least 20 April.

A spokesperson for the trade union 'Sud' which put forward the original complaint said Amazon should've started with this closure prior to putting health and safety standards into place.

It was reported that hand sanitizers and face masks were only delivered at the beginning of April after the workplace inspection was carried out.

Social distancing not respected
The court in Nanterre near Paris pointed out in its ruling on 14 April that several aspects did not meet correct social distancing criteria to prevent the transmission of the virus.

The entrance turnstyles were said to create crowds of people when they arrived at the building, as did the changing rooms and the areas where packages were passed between colleagues.

The company employs nearly 10,000 people across the six sites and all have been paid full salary since the shut down.

Online ordering still open for business
In the absence of employees, the company said it will fully sanitize all of its warehouses and carry out a covid-19 risk assessment before staff are allowed back.

The US firm has encouraged shoppers to keep ordering, and taken out advertisements in French newspapers saying it will try to minimise disruptions by using their network of other warehouses in Europe.

Some shoppers said they had already been warned of delays of up to four weeks to receive their goods.

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