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France blasts pressure on Amazon workers as ‘unacceptable’ amid lockdown

Published: Updated:

Amazon workers in France are coming under unacceptable pressure, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Thursday, after staff complained they faced not getting paid if they stopped showing up due to fears of coronavirus contamination.

Several hundred employees protested in France on Wednesday, calling on the US e-commerce giant to halt operations during the epidemic or allow staff to take up a French right to walk out on full pay if they are endangered at work.

The backlash centers on whether Amazon - as well as other companies that remain operational in France and elsewhere - is taking sufficient measures to protect staff and whether its activities are vital, as European states order schools, restaurants and swathes of stores to shut to fight the pandemic.

The French government has urged factory employees to keep working if possible and if sanitary conditions are adequate, but decried the way Amazon had handled the situation with its staff.

“These pressures are unacceptable, we’ll let Amazon know,” Le Maire told France Inter radio station.

Amazon has reported a surge in online sales globally as the coronavirus crisis spreads, and launched a drive to recruit 100,000 people, as well as offering extra pay to existing employees. In France, it would amount to an extra 2 euros ($2.16) per hour for workers in areas like packing or transport.

The world’s largest online retailer has also said it is prioritizing some products over others and making room in warehouses for key items such as hygiene and medical supplies, pet food or household staples.

The company had no immediate reaction to Le Maire’s comments, but said it was implementing all health guidelines.

A source close to the firm said it did not recognize the right for workers to walk out, given it was strictly applying sanitary protocols.