The US giant Amazon is spreading across Europe

The American retail and technology group Amazon is growing rapidly. He needs more and more space for his huge warehouses, also in Europe. The work in the company’s 60 European logistics centers is often monotonous, but tens of thousands of unqualified people also find work there.

No other company in Europe sends as many Christmas parcels as Amazon. In order to cope with the flood, the logistics and technology giant from the USA has hired 10,000 seasonal workers in Germany alone this year for the period from October until the holidays.

17 locations in Germany alone

The temporary staff support 19,000 employees who work with a permanent contract in one of the company’s 17 German logistics centers. Across Europe, the number has swelled to 60, and the number is increasing almost every month.

Millions of items are stored at each of these locations. Amazon sends them to customers on the spot, either for its own account or on behalf of tens of thousands of third-party companies. The group uses these as a partner for logistics.

Amazon likes to boast of offering an international platform for the sale of their products to small businesses that trade in children’s shoes or produce delicacies, for example. According to the company, 50 to 60% of the stored items come from third-party companies.

Up to half a million parcels per day

In mid-December, the NZZ had the opportunity to take part in a guided tour of three logistics centers in western, northern and eastern Germany via video broadcast. In their statements, employees of the company repeatedly emphasized the enormous volume they were confronted with, especially in the run-up to Christmas. An employee at the logistics center in Winsen an der Luhe in Lower Saxony said that they normally send 100,000 parcels a day. Before Christmas it would be good to have 300,000 or even 500,000.

A parcel from Amazon passes a scanner in the logistics center in Brieselang, Brandenburg, one of 17 of the group in Germany.

Maja Hitij / Getty

Logistics centers designed in this way are called fulfillment centers in industry jargon. The tremendous spatial dimensions they also have can be seen in the example of the Rheinberg site in North Rhine-Westphalia. The somewhat older logistics center near Duisburg covers an area of ​​110,000 square meters. The hundreds of shelves that stand there took up the space of 15, 16 football fields, said one employee.

The newer logistics center in Winsen, which opened in 2017, is one of the 6 in Germany that are currently equipped with robots. These are small multi-storey shelves that move autonomously. They owe their orientation to barcodes that are placed all over the floor in the hall.

Work for refugees too

Thanks to these robots, employees no longer need to clear the storage spaces themselves or to pick up the goods they have ordered. However, such highly automated logistics companies still need human workers. They are primarily busy filling the self-propelled shelves with newly arrived goods and preparing packages for shipping.

The latter activity is carried out by so-called shipping employees, who form the core team of every Amazon logistics center. As Michael Schneider, press spokesman for Amazon in Germany, explains in an interview, it is not uncommon for them to have paid work for the first time. Since neither special language skills nor a professional qualification are required for employment, people who have only recently left their homeland as refugees are also eligible.

An employee drives into the high-bay warehouse in the logistics center in Werne near Dortmund.

An employee drives into the high-bay warehouse in the logistics center in Werne near Dortmund.

Friedemann Vogel / EPA

Since July 2021, Amazon’s logistics centers have had an hourly wage of at least € 12 gross – including seasonal workers. After 24 months, full-time employees waved an average of € 2750 per month, writes the group in a press release – including employee shares and “other extras”. According to Schneider, the company pays surcharges for overtime in the run-up to Christmas and gives its permanent employees one share per year. It points to the present Stock market price valued at around $ 3400.

Image cultivation

In any case, the American company from Seattle seems to want to counter its widespread reputation of making employees in the logistics centers work like ants with all its might. The countless press releases that can be found on the Internet about the expansion of Amazon in Europe are teeming with assurances about what everything is done to be an exemplary employer. An employee at the Winsen site is quoted as saying: «I’ve been with Amazon for over three and a half years and can finance my life completely well. I have a car, an apartment, and I ride as a hobby. “

Amazon opened its first European logistics center in the UK in 1999. In the same year, the first location in Germany – in Bad Hersfeld, Hessen – went into operation. The two countries are still the main focus of the company’s activities in Europe. More than half of the European logistics centers are located there.

The logistics center in Witten near Bochum is one of the newest from Amazon in Germany.  It started operating in November 2021.

The logistics center in Witten near Bochum is one of the newest from Amazon in Germany. It started operating in November 2021.

Hans Blossey / Imago

Last September, Amazon announced that it would be opening a further 8 logistics centers with around 3,000 permanent employees in Germany alone by mid-2022. But the company has also seen strong growth recently in Great Britain, France, Spain and Poland. Most logistics centers also serve customers across borders. Switzerland and Austria are supplied from locations in neighboring countries.

For the whole of Europe, Amazon puts the number of employees with permanent employment contracts at over 175,000. This makes the US group one of the largest private employers in Europe. Not all of Amazon’s employees work in logistics centers, but well over half are likely to do so.

Billions in investments

“We want to be the shop with the greatest selection,” said an employee of the logistics center in Leipzig during the virtual tour. The company only gives a summary of how much Amazon is willing to pay for this claim. A total of € 78 billion has been invested in Europe since 2010, it says in a list on the Internet.

However, it can be assumed that a substantial part of this went into equipping the meanwhile five dozen logistics centers. According to the Amazon spokesman, the buildings are usually financed by specialized real estate companies. Amazon then uses them as part of long-term rental agreements.

Difficult recruiting

When choosing a location, proximity to large customer groups and good transport connections play a key role. So it is no coincidence that Amazon operates a particularly large number of logistics centers in the vicinity of London and the two Spanish metropolises of Madrid and Barcelona as well as in the Ruhr area.

Distribution centers like this newly opened one in Neubrandenburg are used for sorting before the final delivery of the parcels to the customers.  There are around 60 of them in Germany.

Distribution centers like this newly opened one in Neubrandenburg are used for sorting before the final delivery of the parcels to the customers. There are around 60 of them in Germany.

Imago

In view of the sharp drop in unemployment figures in many places, the company must also increasingly ensure that it finds enough potential employees. This allows the company to increasingly venture into rural and structurally weak regions where the labor supply is limited. One example of this is the Upper Franconian town of Hof, at whose gates a new logistics center is currently being built.

Among other things, Amazon advertises that employees with at least one year of service will 95% finance the costs of further training. Employees can, provided they have the necessary school knowledge, be retrained to become truck drivers, network technicians, electricians or car mechanics, for example.

Monotonous activity

But despite all the fringe benefits with which Amazon is always trying to attract new employees, the work, especially at the standing tables, when sending parcels is accompanied by a high level of monotony. Filling one box after the other under time pressure is not for everyone. Then there are the challenges of shift work. Amazon’s logistics centers are in operation around the clock, six days a week. Only Sundays and public holidays are free – including Christmas and New Year.

Employees at the logistics center in Brieselang put packages together.

Employees at the logistics center in Brieselang put packages together.

Maja Hitij / Getty

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