Amazon ‘must respect’ workers’ rights at new Dublin warehouse

Ecommerce giant has history of ‘union busting’ and treating its workers poorly, says union

Amazon, which opened its first Irish fulfilment centre in Dublin this week, must respect Irish industrial relations mechanisms and its workers’ rights to organise a union if they choose to do so, a leading trade union here has said.

Opening the new warehouse in Baldonnell Business Park this week, the global ecommerce giant said it will create 500 jobs at the facility with wages set to start at €13.50 per hour. The new site will “will provide faster delivery times for customers across Ireland”, the company said.

But the Communications Workers Union (CWU), which represents logistics and delivery staff in Ireland, has said Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights. Affiliated to the UNI Global Union, an international alliance of national trade unions that has campaigned to challenge Amazon’s power in recent years, the CWU said the new warehouse may also have a negative impact on other carriers, including An Post.

The company has faced a global torrent of negative publicity in recent years over its alleged treatment of warehouse and delivery workers and claims that it has sought to frustrate trade union organising and activity.

Amazon is currently the subject of an investigation by the US Department of Labour into workplace safety issues related to allegations that its use of productivity quotas to speed up warehouse operations has led to an increase in employee injuries. The company has denied that it uses quotas and disputed claims of poor workplace conditions.

Amazon is also the subject of a recent complaint by the National Labour Relations Board in the US. It alleges that company managers illegally threatened employees at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York that they would lose benefits or have their wages docked if they voted to unionise in advance of a union recognition vote in April.

Workers ultimately voted in favour of joining a union in a historic vote. An Amazon spokeswoman subsequently told Vice Magazine that the allegations included in the board’s complaint were “without merit”.

“The CWU is aware that Amazon workers in other countries, including the USA, are organising through trade unions to better progress and defend their rights and interests,” CWU general secretary Seán McDonagh said. “As the primary trade union representing workers in the logistics and delivery sectors, the CWU welcomes Amazon workers into the union and looks forward to assisting them in dealing with the full range of employment and workplace issues.”

Mr McDonagh said the CWU was working with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and its international affiliates in UNI Global to address its concerns.

Small retailers have also previously expressed concern that the company’s expansion into the Irish market could put them out of business. An Post, where the CWU is the largest union representing workers, also stands to lose out, Mr McDonagh said.

“The potential for an operator of this scale to have a downward influence on existing pay and conditions in the industry is of particular concern,” he said.

Asked whether the company would recognise trade unions at its new Dublin facility, a spokeswoman for Amazon said: “Our employees have the choice of whether or not to join a union. They always have.

“As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees. Every day we empower people to find ways to improve their jobs, and when they do that we want to make those changes — quickly. That type of continuous improvement is harder to do quickly and nimbly with unions in the middle.”

She said that ensuring worker safety was “our number one priority and ahead of everything else, it’s the most important thing” the company does.

“We’ve made great progress in recent years and months in important areas like pay and safety. We already offer competitive pay, comprehensive benefits and opportunities for career growth, all while working in a modern, safe and engaging work environment,” she said. “There are plenty of things that we can keep doing better, both in our fulfilment centres and in our corporate spaces for employees, and that’s our focus — to keep getting better every day.”

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times