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COVID-19: Amazon to shut French centres for five days over virus ruling

Online retailer Amazon said on Wednesday it would close its French distribution centres for five days after a court ordered it to evaluate measures taken to protect workers from coronavirus. The sites would be closed from Thursday but employees would be paid full salaries, Amazon said.
The firm promised to appeal against Tuesday's court ruling, which limited the tech giant to delivering only essential goods while it evaluates the risk of workers being exposed to coronavirus. The facilities are key in preparing orders submitted online for delivery to clients.

The court said Amazon France had "failed to recognise its obligations regarding the security and health of its workers" and gave it a month to carry out the evaluation. The firm said the ruling left it "perplexed" saying it had given the court evidence about temperature checks, physical distancing orders and use of personal protective equipment.

- 'Essential service' -

The CGT union told AFP a committee including representatives of the union, workers and the employer voted to close the sites so that they could be cleaned.

Amazon France's biggest labour union, the SUD, took the company to court saying workers were being forced to work in close proximity.

The SUD welcomed the site closures and its representative Laurent Degousee told AFP that the union would watch carefully to make sure employees were properly paid.

"Currently, we are continuing to operate in the country and doing everything possible to maintain the level of service," the company said in a statement in French. "However, without the possibility to use our distribution centres in France, we will be forced to restrict a service which has become essential for millions of people across the country which want access to products that they need during the crisis."

The company said it had delivered more than 127,000 packets of disinfectant wipes, 27,000 litres of sanitising hand gel and 1.5 million masks.

France, like many other countries, has closed all non-essential businesses -- only supermarkets and pharmacies are open in many areas. Online retailers like Amazon have continued to sell products now unavailable elsewhere, and in many countries Amazon has added thousands of staff to meet a surge in orders.

Amazon, which in February employed 6,500 permanent staff and 3,600 temporary employees at six French sites, insisted it was properly respecting safety standards. Since the coronavirus outbreak, it has received five warnings from French labour inspectors and has taken action to get three of them lifted.

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