Amazon will suspend all distribution operations in its six warehouses in France until at least April 20, according to an internal document sent to French labor unions. The decision came after a French court ruled on Tuesday that the company must limit deliveries to essential goods while it conducts a thorough assessment of the coronavirus contagion risk at its warehouses.
The court gave the French subsidiary of the U.S. online retail giant 24 hours to restrict shipments to essential goods such as food or medical supplies, or face a fine of $1.1 million for each day of non-compliance. The company decided to temporarily halt operations.
A lawsuit resulted from a complaint filed last month by a French group of labor unions, which raised concerns about workers' health and safety since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in France. Unions accuse Amazon of overcrowding and lacking health standards at its distribution sites.
French media reported that according to Laurent Degousée, a representative from the labor union that filed the complaint, several employees from an Amazon warehouse site south of Paris have tested positive for COVID-19, and one is in intensive care.
Amazon claimed it has adhered to recommended health guidelines and had established regular temperature checks for workers in France, as it has elsewhere. It also said it had made face masks and sanitizer gel available.
"We're puzzled by the court ruling, given the hard evidence brought forward regarding security measures put in place to protect our employees," Amazon said in a statement.
The court said Amazon had not done enough to guarantee safe distances between employees, based on reports from labor inspectors. It also said the company had not adequately assessed the risk associated with employees passing packages to one another.
Amazon currently employs approximately 10,000 people at its French warehouses, according to the court ruling.
Amazon has one month to revise its health and safety protocols with employee representatives.
Labor unions told Bloomberg News that Amazon had informed employees it will use a government labor scheme to furlough employees. "Employees are going on partial unemployment but paid 100%, the company told us," said Julien Vincent, a representative from the CFDT labor union.
Tuesday marked four weeks of nationwide confinement, and President Emmanuel Macron announced the same day that the strict measures will continue until May 11. This week's temporary Amazon closure will likely be a blow to households that rely on its delivery service, since most businesses across the country are closed.
In the U.S., where the company has also come under scrutiny for its health and safety measures, Amazon said earlier this week it would hire 75,000 more workers to keep up with the surge in demand for deliveries.
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