Facing scrutiny over safety, Amazon fires two more employees

The e-commerce giant was urged to improve working conditions after cases of COVID-19 were reported at some facilities.

A worker in a face mask walks by trucks parked at an Amazon facility as the global coronavirus outbreak continues in Bethpage on Long Island in New York, the United States, where Amazon fired two Seattle employees for 'repeatedly violating internal policies' [Andrew Kelly/Reuters]

Amazon.com Inc said on Tuesday that it terminated two employees, who criticised the working conditions at the e-commerce giant’s warehouses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, for “repeatedly violating internal policies”.

The termination of Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa, who worked as user-experience designers in Seattle, comes two weeks after the company fired another employee Christian Smalls after he came to its Staten Island warehouse for a demonstration in violation of his paid quarantine.

The Seattle-based firm has been facing public scrutiny over safety and working conditions of warehouse, delivery and retail gig workers in the United States after cases of COVID-19 were reported in some of its facilities. 

Amazon said it supported “every employee’s right to criticize their employer’s working conditions, but that does not come with blanket immunity against any and all internal policies.”

The world’s largest online retailer is racing to update safety protocols, keep warehouses functional and ship essential goods to shoppers who have been told by their governments to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus. It has now said it will roll out temperature checks and face masks for staff at all of its US and European warehouses.

Last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered the city’s Human Rights Commission to open an investigation to look into Christian Smalls’s allegations. Five Democratic lawmakers also wrote a letter to the company last week questioning the allegations.

Workers have clashed with Amazon in the US and elsewhere over the extent to which protective guidelines are implemented. 

On Tuesday, Amazon in France was ordered to limit deliveries to essential goods only within 24 hours to allow for a deeper assessment of coronavirus risks at its sites in the country, trade union Sud said.

Some unions had been calling for the complete closure of Amazon‘s activities in France, or at the very least a further clampdown, after raising concerns over working conditions as the outbreak continues.

The basic goods Amazon will be allowed to ship include food and hygiene products or medical items, Sud said after receiving the ruling by the Nanterre court just outside Paris.

The court also ruled that Amazon will have to pay a penalty of one million euros per day of delay in complying with the order, the union added.

The Amazon website was receiving many orders for craft kits or home-improvement goods during France’s broad lockdown to contain the coronavirus. Some employees said that, in recent weeks, they were packing video games and sex toys.

Amazon came under scrutiny from labour inspectors and was told to improve conditions at five French sites. Of those, health conditions have now been met at three warehouses.

Amazon has said it has provided employees with sanitiser gel and other equipment, and that it has gone beyond government guidelines on safety distances. The e-commerce company has reported virus cases among warehouse staff and faced several demonstrations.

Amazon has also been contending with a surge in demand and on Monday said that it would hire 75,000 more US workers for jobs ranging from warehouse staff to delivery drivers.

Source: Reuters