TORONTO — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing criticism after he announced Friday that the country is teaming up with U.S. tech giant Amazon.com Inc. to distribute personal protective equipment like masks and gloves across the country.
Critics of the partnership say it ignores the handful of Canadian-owned delivery brands and instead favours the Seattle-based company that is facing complaints over an alleged lack of precautions to protect workers against COVID-19.
"(Amazon) workers are happy that they have work, but what that (announcement) means in turn is that they will be physically pushed to do more under unsafe working conditions," said Gagandeep Kaur, a postal worker and organizer with Warehouse Workers Centre, a Brampton, Ont.-based organization helping those in the warehouse and logistics sector.
Kaur and the centre recently started a petition, signed by more than 450 people, claiming that “Amazon is failing to protect our health.”
The petition alleges that Amazon, which employs tens of thousands of people in Canada and has fulfilment centres in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, is refusing to give workers paid leave.
“(The government) made a deal with the Amazon, and they never commented on the compensation of the workers,” she said. “I am not happy about that..They actually are keeping a blind eye on it.”
The petition also says Amazon is not telling staff what their plans are if facilities are contaminated or suspected of being contaminated.
It notes that physical distancing is "nearly impossible" across Amazon facilities stuffed with hundreds to thousands of employees," especially because the number of orders to be fulfilled has "drastically increased" as people stay home.
Some warehouse workers are now putting in 50 hours a week or more, which the petition called “unsustainable" and said needs to stop.
Complaints like those from Kaur's group had Matthew Green, the NDP critic for national revenue, public services and procurement, calling the federal government’s choice of Amazon “disappointing.”
“Recent reports of Amazon avoiding COVID-19 safety measures like physical distancing put workers' lives at risk and threatens the public's health amid a pandemic. Cutting corners to increase profits during a health crisis is wrong and should not be rewarded,” he said, in a statement.
“We have an incredibly hard working team at Canada Post that handles national logistics every day — privatization can't be the answer.”
Canada Post and Purolator did not respond immediately for requests for comment.
Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator and other local delivery partners to distribute the medical supplies throughout Canada.
When asked about the deal, the company’s country manager Mike Strauch said in a statement that, “The Amazon Canada team is proud to partner with the Government of Canada by leveraging our fulfilment network and delivery service partners to ship critical supplies to front-line medical professionals across the country.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 3, 2020.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press