Amazon vs the unions: Wages go up, but are workers paid enough?

Despite a raise, Polish trade unions believe wages at Amazon's distribution centres in the county are still too low.

After months of battling with local trade unions, Amazon has raised the wages of the 6000 workers at its two logistics centers in Western Poland. However, problems for the retail giant remain.

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Amazon met mixed reactions when it announced the opening of three logistical centres in Poland and the Czech Republic early last year. For some, the creation of between 4,000 and 6,000 new jobs was welcome news in an area with comparatively high unemployment. For others, it was a chance to capitalise on the low wages of the area. The fact that Amazon did not bring any services to the countries where the distribution centers are located, and that the centres support the company's German operations, did not exactly help Amazon's image.

Fears over low wages have largely been borne out. Amazon's hourly pay was around PLN 12.50 to PLN 13 (less than €3) for lower-level employees, and PLN 16 (a little under €4) for managers. Those figures are low even by Polish standards, where the median monthly wage is around PN 3,100 (€738). At 40 hours a week, Amazon's wages reached only a little above PLN 2000 (€475) per month.

Polish trade unions are not happy about the state of affairs and have gradually increased pressure on Amazon to better its ways.

Solidarity, the largest union looking to negotiate with Amazon, supported a series of strikes at Amazon Germany, one of which was held late last year just before the holiday season. The conflict came stepped up a gear when Inicjatywa Pracownicza (Employees' Initiative), a smaller union, gave the company a deadline early last month to raise wages to at least PLN 16 an hour for low level employees.

While that deadline came and went quietly, two weeks later Amazon announced a blanket wage rise, though not to the levels demanded by the unions. From early August, lower level employees will earn PLN 14 per hour, while managers will see wages rise to PLN 18.

However, the company denied the threat of strikes had anything to do with the raise and the decision was made off the back of an analysis of earnings at 150 companies based in the same region.

"Regarding the wage increase, we follow a standard data driven process," an Amazon spokesperson told ZDNet. "On an annual basis, in every market we operate, we review compensation information that are offered for similar jobs in the local area and make adjustments as appropriate - this is an effective process that ensures we remain a competitive employer. With this wage review we are giving our associates from an eight percent to a 12.5 percent increase."

So far, union reactions have been rather sceptical. "Despite this raise, we are still earning less than a third of what our colleagues in Germany get," Grzegorz Ciszon of the Solidarity delegation in Bielanach Wroclawski, where one of the centres is located, told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. Inycjatywa Pracownicza did not respond to request for comment.

Politicians are also keeping a close eye on the Amazon situation, especially as labour inspections have reported, among other things, irregularities in sick leave payments and a lack of chairs in office areas.

"In the coming weeks the company's management will be invited to Warsaw to talk about quality of working environment," Ilona Antonyszin-Klik, Poland's vice minister of economic affairs, aid. "The signals we get are alarming. The announcements and assurances from Amazon before the opening [of the centres] were different."

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