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"2,000 pln for everyone" - Polish Amazon workers demand bonus

"2,000 pln for everyone" - Polish Amazon workers demand bonus

On 5 November 2020, Amazon workers from the warehouse located near Wroclaw, Poland (Amazon WRO1) stopped working and demanded "2,000 pln for everyone". In the following days workers from other Polish sites have joined the protest and declare to continue during the upcoming Black Friday.

The Amazon WRO1 warehouse is the only Amazon fulfillment center in Poland that handles bulky, big-and-heavy items. More than a thousand forklift truck operators are employed there, stowing and picking items from high-racks. In total, Amazon in Poland employs 18,000 permanent stuff and additional 10,000 temp workers in its 8 fulfillment centers operating for the amazon.de, online platform for German clients (Amazon does not sell in Poland). This year the agencies have offered an additional recruitment bonus of 2,000 PLN (530$) for the newly recruited, obviously struggling with finding enough labour.

The recruitment bonus caused a big stir among permanent and temp workers working already for several months, as they were not entitled to it. In the warehouses and internet forums a lot of them have been discussing that Amazon only cares about fulfilling orders before Christmas, but not its workers. The union Inicjatywa Pracownicza, who organizes Amazon workers in Poland since 2014, has been pointing out for years that the Amazon business model insures greater workload in high seasons that depend on short-time employment, in the season of the biggest profits for the company.

The discontent has also grew because majority of the Polish Amazon warehouse workers have not received any wage increases this year. Since 2015, in the third quarter of the year Amazon Fulfillment Poland has been conducting a so-called "payroll review", comparing earnings in the region around warehouses and in similar industries. For the first time in 5 years the company did not increased the basic salary, claiming that it is still competitive: thus the hour wage of the vast majority of its employees in Poland was frozen at 20 PLN gross per hour (5,30 usd). This happens during the pandemic, when the wealth of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos has grownunimaginably, and he himself has found himself among the five richest businessmen in history.

It has to be said that Amazon has introduced a "Christmas bonus" of 4 PLN (1 $) for every work-hour between 8 November and 26 December 2020. That bonus was presented to the unions, who expected higher amounts, but Amazon was not ready to make concessions.

It is worth to remember, that after Amazon workers protests in various countries this year, from mid-March to mid-May 2020, Amazon also in Poland offered a "covid" bonus. However it was 1usd (4 PLN), not 2 usd/2 euro, like in the majority of European & US warehouses. Obviously the pandemic has not ended and its second wave has recently hit Poland hard. Amazon employees, along with other warehouse and logistics workers, are called heroes thanks to whom it is possible to fulfill orders during the lockdown. Due to the ongoing mass recruitment by Amazon even more people are coming into contact with each other every day in company buses, checkrooms, canteens and in the hall, risking their health.

According to many Polish employees, they deserve more. Many expressed that the 4 PLN bonus - just like in last spring - should be a remuneration for working under the Covid-19 conditions, while the Christmas bonus should be separate and much higher. Many of them have been repairing their household budgets in recent years thanks to the Christmas bonus, as their earnings were not satisfactory throughout the year. This year they feel that it was taken away.

For this reason, from 5 November 2020, a series of grassroots protests took place in Polish warehouses, including stoppages at work, lasting from a few minutes to an hour. Workers from different sites expressed their expectations by wearing orange helth-and-safety vests at work with the handmade slogan on the back "2,000 for everyone". They circulated the pictures online and called on others to join: "Whoever supports us should also wear such a vest!".

The union Inicjatywa Pracownicza at Amazon received the recordings of the work-stoppage by forklift truck operators from the Amazon FC WRO1. On a day shift, at the dock and ship departments, about 115-130 forklift operators (i.e. the vast majority from these departments) took part in the protest. As one of the participants reported: "Employees gathered in one place and for about three minutes they turned on the horns. Those who sympathize with us came to us as a sign of protest. This made a great impression on other employees. Of course, the managers and HR people immediately showed up. At the end we shouted three times '2 thousand for everyone!'. The night shift stopped working for one hour, between 1 and 2 at night. The employees of the pick and stow departments blocked the road at the pick department, blocking the way." Another participant wrote: "The protest at WRO1 was also attended by customer return departments on three lines: about 180 people turned on the andons for a few minutes". The red andon is a light signal informing that it is technically impossible to continue working.

In the letter to the Amazon management the union wrote: "Representing Amazon and agency workers, we express our indignation that the bonus does not apply to all. We are aware that employment agencies that offer the bonus are working with Amazon for many years and indirectly benefit from the profits generated by Amazon workers. We are asking for an explanation of such payroll policy that has moved many workers as policy of no respect for employees. Therefore, we stand that a bonus of 2,000 PLN, should be paid to all employees, regardless of seniority and form of employment,  and regardless of the PLN 4 bonus. We expect explanations and further discussions over the bonus."

On November 13th Amazon responded: "We inform you that temporary employment agencies have a payroll policy independent of Amazon, regarding the workers they employ. The bonus that the trade union mentions in the letter is not a bonus proposed by Amazon and the Amazon is not a party to the matter (...)." Amazon has not responded to the fact that workers feel moved and perceive such a wage policy as disrespectful and undertake protest, and to the union readiness to start the talks. Instead, we could read in their letter, that the employees will receive Christmas benefits from the Social Benefits Fund (although it is set up by the Polish law, not a goodwill of the corporation) and "traditionally, during November and December there will be numerous competitions and attractions, details of which will be provided soon".

The union supports and documents grassroots workers actions. We are receiving information that more people want to get involved, especially on the upcoming Black Friday, during the period of intensive work. The union has declared that it would support these protests and, if necessary, provide legal assistance to their participants.

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