Amazon workers strike in Germany as Christmas orders peak

BERLIN (Reuters) - More than 2,000 Amazon staff at German warehouses went on strike on Monday to press demands for better pay and conditions as the online retailer races to ensure Christmas orders are delivered on time.

Labor union Verdi said almost 2,300 workers joined the action at five of Amazon’s nine distribution centers in Germany, and that the action would be extended to a sixth on Tuesday - the most warehouses hit by a strike in the long-running dispute.

The walkouts at the six centers are set to run until the end of Wednesday’s late shift and Verdi said delays to deliveries could not be ruled out as a result of the strikes.

Amazon itself said customers could order up until midnight on Dec. 21 to get gifts in time for Christmas, or even on Dec. 23 or 24 if they pay for express delivery.

“We deliver reliably,” a spokeswoman said, adding that only a small minority of workers had joined the strikes, with around 19,000 employees working normally.

Last year, Amazon orders in Germany peaked on Dec. 15, when customers bought 4.6 million items - or 53 per second.

Verdi has organized frequent strikes at Amazon since May 2013 as it seeks to force the retailer to raise pay for workers at its distribution centers in accordance with collective bargaining agreements across Germany’s mail order and retail industry.

Amazon has repeatedly rejected the union’s demands, saying it regards warehouse staff as logistics workers and that they receive above-average pay by the standards of that industry.

The U.S. company has previously said the long-running dispute has not affected deliveries as the vast majority of workers in Germany have not joined the strikes and it can draw on a European network of 28 warehouses in seven countries.

It employs almost 10,000 staff at its warehouses in Germany, its second-biggest market behind the United States, as well as more than 10,000 seasonal workers.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Pravin Char