European trade union leaders, including three UK unions, have called on the European commission to open an investigation into Amazon’s “potentially illegal” effort to spy on workers for union activities.

The heads of some of Europe’s biggest unions, representing more than 12 million workers, wrote to the commission to demand an investigation into Amazon’s work practices across the continent. The move comes after the US tech firm advertised jobs for which part of the description was investigating the threat of organised labour against the company.

Paddy Lillis, the general secretary of Usdaw, along with Mick Rix, a national officer of GMB, and Dave Ward, the general secretary of the Communication Workers Union, are among the 37 signatories to the letter. They also include the German union ver.di, the French Democratic Confederation of Labour and Spain’s biggest trade union, CCOO.

“Amazon’s plans to ramp up surveillance of workers across Europe and globally are yet another reminder that EU institutions should closely investigate Amazon’s business and workplace practices throughout the continent, as we suspect them to be in breach of European labour, data and privacy laws that our citizens expect to enjoy,” says the letter, which is addressed to Nicolas Schmit, the European commissioner for jobs and social rights, and Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal market.

Vice and others reported this month that Amazon had posted job listings for two “intelligence analysts” to track “labor organizing threats against the company” and “funding and activities connected to corporate campaigns (internal and external) against Amazon”. The company deleted the listings hours after posting them, after they drew heavy criticism from labour activist groups.

The posting had sought an analyst fluent in languages including French and Spanish, suggesting that European workers would be monitored, says the letter to the commission, quoting the media reports.

Amazon has been hostile to attempts by employees to form unions to improve working conditions, especially in the US. The company has recently enjoyed strong sales growth because of a surge in online shopping since the coronavirus outbreak, and has gone on a global hiring spree, taking on 27,000 seasonal and permanent workers in the UK alone this year.

“Further, we don’t want to see the growth of a union busting industry in Europe as we have seen in the US,” the letter says.

The EU is planning to roll out the Digital Services Act, a directive that will update rules for the digital economy. The full scope of the package is being negotiated but it will cover content and user moderation as well as new competition rules for “gatekeeper platforms” such as Google, Apple and Amazon. The commission is due to present its plans in December.

“The revelations have been accumulating over the past weeks: the corporation led by the richest person in the world is spying on some of the lowest-paid workers in the EU,” said Oliver Roethig, the regional secretary of UNI Europa, part of the UNI Global Union federation.

“Amazon has led the raid on workers’ rights, using its data-monopoly power to crush efforts by workers to improve their conditions. Now it is ramping up its espionage operations. Its abuses call for special attention. It is time for the EU to act.”

Amazon has been contacted for comment.

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