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15 Oct 2021

Klara Votavova,
Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN),
Balkan Insight

Amazon workers in Poland & Czechia raise alarms that 'algorithmic management' has led to unfair dismissals, impacts on health & working conditions; incl. company response

Amazon.co.uk employee sorts through books and other retail goods at their facility in Milton Keynes, England.

In Central Europe, concern over toll, fairness of Amazon algorithms, 13 September 2021

Trade unions are taking on algorithmic management in Amazon warehouses in Central Europe, with some success.

In August 2020, Amazon terminated [worker Michaela Máková's] contract, citing loss of medical fitness. Máková had begun experiencing pain, numbness and tingling in her hands, the result, she says, of repetitive motions over an extended period that involved packing 2,000 delivery packages in a single 10-hour shift.

The pace at which she worked was monitored by a computer telling her exactly where to find each product, part of the algorithmic management that has become standard in warehouses run by the US tech giant as it races to satisfy demand from online shoppers.

In April 2021, Máková had surgery on her right arm to release nerve pressure from carpal tunnel syndrome. Two months later, the Hygiene Authority of Czechia’s Central Bohemian Region ruled that Amazon was responsible for her injury, giving her the right to claim compensation...

The term algorithmic management describes a type of management where workers are directed, evaluated, and disciplined by algorithms – rather than by their bosses – based on data previously collected about their behaviour...

“If the manager doesn’t like you, he puts you in a position where you are unable to meet the quotas, the system gives you three warnings and then automatically fires you,” said Ivo Mayer, president of Dobrovíz warehouse trade union at the Amazon logistics hub near Prague...

On the European level, the most powerful legal tool available to rein in algorithmic management is currently the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, which stipulates that collecting and processing of personal data must have a lawful basis, established either by consent of the data subject or by proof of a legitimate interest behind such processing... To comply with GDPR requirements, Amazon requires all new hires to sign a privacy notice. But this is non-negotiable, and the Czech data protection authority, ÚOOÚ, has questioned whether it provides sufficient legal basis for data processing...

[incl. company response]