Amazon arrives in Poland, Czech Republic - but not everyone's happy

Amazon is opening five fulfilment centres in Poland and the the Czech Republic, and trade unions are already concerned.
Written by Michiel van Blommestein, Contributor

Hiring has started for four so-called fulfilment centres Amazon is planning to open in Poland and the Czech Republic in time for Christmas this year, with a fifth site in Poland planned for 2015. The centres are the first of their kind in both countries.

The 'fulfilment centres' are large warehouses where products are picked, packed and sent out to consumers. In Poland, one centre will be located in Sady (near Poznan) and two near the city of Wroclaw. All three will be built by Panattoni, a project developer. The Czech locations will be near Brno and the capital Prague.

Despite setting up shop in the two countries, don't expect an Amazon.pl or Amazon.cz on the way any time soon. All five centres will be supporting Amazon's retail operations all over Europe, particularly in Germany.

The scale of these operations is pretty large: with a floor space of more than 100,000 square metres each, they dwarf the centres operated by others in the region. In comparison, up until the Amazon centres become operational, the largest distribution centre in Poland belonged to UK supermarket chain Tesco, which covers a mere 60,000 square metres.

The local governments where the new complexes are to be built are supporting the developments, as these huge warehouses will mean employment. A spokesman for the Wroclaw city labour department told newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that interest in the vacancies is high. In a country with more than two million unemployed, the offer of 2,000 jobs per centre (3,000 during the high season) sounds very tempting indeed.

As a result, Amazon can hand pick from a very large number of eager candidates, and can afford to be demanding: one job advert for an engineering/facilities manager requires candidates to speak both Czech and English (beside native Polish), for example. So far, Amazon is searching for specialists in management, IT, HR, and PR, with openings for file and rank employees slated to begin no earlier than April.

Compared to their cousins in other European countries, pay for Polish workers is likely to be pretty low: workers are expected to get somewhere between PLN 1,800 (around €450) and PLN 3,000 (€750) a month in Poland, with Czech wages slightly higher. German employees would typically earn around four times as much.

Consequently, Amazon's decision to open fulfilment centres in the two countries have met with criticism as well as support. The lot of pickers, the staff responsible of collecting goods from the warehouses and packaging it up for shipping, has been scrutinised in the West, which Polish media have also picked up on.

After union protests in the United Kingdom and Germany last year, entering a labour market where only 12 percent (Poland) and 17 percent (the Czech Republic) of workers are unionised could obviously have benefits for Amazon. One Amazon exec has even voiced his hope that trade unions in those countries will stay away from the facilities.

Solidarity, the Polish labour union, is very wary of Amazon's entrance into the country, but also admits it will have a hard time interesting people in unionisation considering Poland's craving for more jobs. 

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