Amazon is refusing to shut its warehouses as 5 workers across Spain and Italy test positive for coronavirus

Amazon’s warehouse near Madrid, Spain. Susana Vera/Reuters
  • Amazon has confirmed three cases of COVID-19 in two of its Spanish warehouses, plus two cases in an Italian warehouse.
  • The company has ruled out shutting down the warehouses.
  • Amazon said in a statement that it is “following the guidelines of local and international health authorities.”
  • The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the differences in the way highly paid office workers at tech companies are treated, versus the more precarious hourly or seasonal staff.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon has ruled out shutting down two warehouses in Spain despite three workers testing positive for COVID-19.

We first saw the news via Spanish news website La Información. A warehouse worker in Spain confirmed the news to Business Insider.

Amazon later confirmed to Bloomberg that now five of its workers in Europe, three in Spain and two in Italy, have tested positive for the virus – but that it won’t be shutting down warehouses.

The San Fernando warehouse based outside Madrid houses over 3,000 employees. The worker said that warehouse has two instances of the virus. The second warehouse is based just outside Barcelona, and reported one case. The source said management had ruled out shutting down either facility.

The decision to keep the warehouses open incensed Spanish workers’ union the CCOO, which said it would be taking legal action against Amazon.”They’re putting financial gain before workers’ health,” a union spokesperson told La Información.

In Italy workers will strike on Tuesday to protest the company’s reaction to the crisis, a union spokesperson told Business Insider.

According to La Información, Amazon is hiring dozens of new temporary workers in its Spanish warehouses. The retail giant announced on Monday that overall it is hiring 100,000 new warehouse workers and raising pay by $US2 per hour in April to deal with a sudden spike in demand brought on by the coronavirus as people stay in their homes.

Amazon told La Información that it is providing support to workers already in quarantine. “The health and safety of our employees is our main concern; we are following the guidelines of local and international health authorities and have implemented a series of preventive health measures in our centres around the world,” a spokesperson said.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Christy Hoffman, General Secretary of the international UNI Global Union, condemned Amazon’s decision.

“Amazon has told its office workers to stay home in order to avoid the spread of COVID-19 but, when it comes to the warehouses, the same concern does not seem to apply. When employees in a warehouse test positive, there should be a special effort made to protect the other employees, encourage social distancing and to deep clean the facility. But, instead, the company is bringing in more employees, working at an even faster pace, in order to meet the spike in consumer demand,” Hoffman told Business Insider.

“Amazon should take every possible measure to prevent the virus’s spread – not cash in on increased hand sanitizer and bottled water sales. Without the necessary precautions, the company could put workers and the broader community at risk,” Hoffman added.

The coronavirus outbreak has highlighted the differences between highly paid full-time tech employees at the major US firms, and the hourly or temporary contractors who work in cafeterias, retail stores and, in Amazon’s case, warehouses. While most office workers have been instructed to work from home, these more precarious workers are dependent on an hourly rate, cannot work from home, and do not tend to qualify for the same benefits.

Most of the major US tech firms have promised financial support to hourly employees who cannot come into work during office shutdowns or who fall sick.

Amazon has promised its logistics workers would receive two weeks of paid sick leave if quarantined, and unlimited, unpaid time off through March. Amazon also established a $US25 million “relief fund” for drivers and seasonal workers, which includes its warehouse workers.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has led to a spike in orders from Amazon. The company announced on Saturday that its Prime delivery service was experiencing delays, and it was running out of stock for staple household items.

Do you work at Amazon? Got a tip? Contact this reporter at [email protected] or [email protected]