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French court faults Amazon over virus safety, limits deliveries

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Paris (AFP)

Amazon faces having its operations reduced to a bare minimum in France after a court ruled the e-commerce giant can deliver only essential goods while the company evaluates its workers' risk of coronavirus exposure.

The court in Nanterre, outside Paris, said Amazon France had "failed to recognise its obligations regarding the security and health of its workers," according to a ruling seen by AFP.

While carrying out a health evaluation, Amazon can prepare and deliver only "food, hygiene and medical products," the court said.

The injunction must be carried out within 24 hours, or Amazon France could face fines of one million euros ($1.1 million) per day.

Amazon has one month to carry out the evaluation.

The ruling comes as consumers around the world flock to Amazon during the coronavirus lockdown.

But concern has grown over the safety precautions taken by the company, and dozens of workers protested in the United States last month.

Amazon has been hiring thousands of workers as business booms in countries affected by the coronavirus outbreak after authorities imposed business closures and stay-at-home orders to try to limit infections.

The company said Monday it had filled the 100,000 US jobs it promised a month ago to meet demand from the coronavirus outbreak, and was ready to take on 75,000 more.

- 'Unacceptable pressure' -

But Amazon France's biggest labour union took the company to court saying more than 100 workers were being forced to work in close proximity despite the nationwide ban on public gatherings in force since mid-March.

Last month, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire accused Amazon of putting "unacceptable" pressure on employees after unions claimed the retailer was refusing to pay staff who did not go in to work for fear of coronavirus contagion.

His comments came after hundreds of employees walked out at several Amazon processing centres in France, exercising the "right of refusal" in France's labour code if an employee considers there is a risk to health or safety.

Amazon disputed claims that it was not taking sufficient precautionary measures, saying it had imposed stricter cleaning protocols and taken steps "so that employees can keep the necessary distance from one another."

- 'Evaluating implications' -

Amazon said that it would appeal the decision -- but the ruling is not suspended pending appeal.

"We are currently evaluating what the implications are for our French logistical sites," it added.

Amazon, which in February employed 6,500 permanent staff and 3,600 temporary employees at six French sites, insisted that it was properly respecting safety standards.

It said that it had handed out more than 127,000 packs of sanitary wipes, over 27,000 litres of gel as well as 1.5 million masks.

It had also put in place temperature controls and social distancing measures, it added.

Laurent Degousee, of the SUD-Commerce union that was behind the complaint, acknowledged that Amazon had "not stood idly by" amid the crisis but had taken a "slew of measures without any evaluation".

He said that the taking of temperatures had sometimes caused queues and thus risked possible infection.

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