Digitec Galaxus does not want to be a company like any other. “Pirate” is the PR department’s favorite word, which cultivates the image of the unconventional start-up with cheeky advertising campaigns.
In at least one area, Digitec Galaxus has actually set new standards in Switzerland: If you order by 7 p.m., you will usually have the package in your mailbox the next day. This guiding code has probably made a significant contribution to the fact that the online retailer, which sells everything from diapers to high-tech televisions, has achieved impressive growth since it was founded in 2001.
Corona has given Digitec Galaxus an additional boost. In 2019, the company, which has been majority owned by Migros since 2015, broke the billion mark for the first time. In 2021, goods worth CHF 2.1 billion were already sold. This makes the group the clear number one in Swiss online retail.
«Everything full on performance»
But this growth does not come for free: the employees in logistics pay the price for it. As research by SonntagsBlick shows, they feel more and more exploited by the self-proclaimed pirate group. Half a dozen employees at the Digitec Galaxus logistics center in Wohlen, Aargau, independently report that the working conditions have become unacceptable in some cases.
Fabrizio* (28), who has been in Wohlen for five years, describes it like this: «When I started, you could make a mistake without causing drama immediately. Consideration was given to older or ailing employees. Now, on the other hand, everything is geared towards performance.” It’s all about customer satisfaction, and the pressure on the employees is constantly increasing.
Martina* (34), who has also been with us for five years, is specific: “Previously, you had to scan 70 items per hour when goods were received. Today the target is 205 articles per hour.» This also has something to do with the fact that the processes have been adjusted. But the requirements have definitely increased.
That means looking at the working conditions at Digitec Galaxus
Monitoring by traffic light system
Figures for the entire company support this perception: in 2017 Digitec Galaxus generated per capita sales of 995,000 francs, in 2021 this figure was 1,205,000 francs.
Who scans how many articles is systematically monitored with a traffic light system. If you manage 205 articles per hour or more, the traffic light lights up green. With 195 to 204 items, it turns yellow. If you stay below, you turn in the red area. Martina: “If you don’t reach the target of 205 articles per hour for a long time, you have a problem.” People who didn’t reach their goals for three or four months would have been fired.
So that it doesn’t get that far in the first place, the employees are kept on a short leash. While office Switzerland enjoys new freedoms in the home office, the regime in Wohlen is reminiscent of a galley. “You’re always under surveillance,” says Julie* (23), who has been working here for two years. The shift managers would have windows in their office from which they could see everything. “If you talk to someone for two or three minutes, the team leader comes straight away and says: ‘We have enough work to do.'”
Telephoning at work is also frowned upon and, depending on the boss, even forbidden, Martina adds. “Anyone who has to go to the toilet or wants to smoke a cigarette is also obliged to report to their manager. Of course, you also have to stamp out for smoking.” At least: A few weeks ago, the company committee achieved that the employees in incoming goods no longer have to clock out if they want to get new water for their drinking bottles.
Personal life suffers
But another problem has remained: Because Digitec Galaxus is growing so quickly, more items often arrive at the incoming goods department than can be processed in five days. Six working days are therefore regularly required – and usually at very short notice. Fabrizio: «You tell us on Thursday, for example, that you don’t have to work on Saturday. But on Friday it suddenly means that we have to come on Saturday after all.” There is no compulsion though. Especially if you have minus hours, you can hardly defend yourself against it. “Of course, private life suffers as a result. Plans for the weekend are impossible.”
It’s even harder in the Pick Tower, where the customers’ packages are put together. “Here you have to be particularly smart to meet the requirements,” says Julie, who has already looked into several departments. When a colleague from incoming goods was in the pick tower for the first time, he asked her: “Why is everyone running around here?” Julie has also seen someone collapse at work. However, she does not know how often this happens.
Larissa* (26) has a better overview in this respect. She is a paramedic and therefore gets to see a lot of cases. She says: “Especially in summer, someone collapses every few days, especially in packing, where it can get very warm and the work can be very physically demanding.”
Ventilation and use of a cooling unit
The statements are shocking. Are collapsing logistics employees really the price for having our parcel in the mailbox within 24 hours – or faster?
Digitec Galaxus knows about such incidents and does not deny them: “In 2020 and 2021 there were around 30 documented cases of nausea, circulatory or blood pressure problems in the Wohlen logistics center, in which a company paramedic was on duty,” says spokesman Stephan Kurmann. There is a certain accumulation in July. “We assume that this is because it gets very warm in the packing area in summer.”
Digitec Galaxus has already taken measures: In addition to forced ventilation and the use of a cooling unit, fans have been set up at the workplaces. There are also water dispensers so that employees can drink enough liquid.
The online retailer emphasizes that such cases are taken very seriously. At the same time, however, the company is of the opinion that the number of cases in recent years has been low for a logistics company. “The case numbers in logistics are the same as in the office,” says Kurmann. In addition, the numbers have remained stable, despite doubling the number of employees. The company calculates the numbers small: “With around 100,000 working days that are worked in our logistics center every year, 30 cases mean that someone suffers from nausea, circulatory or blood pressure problems on 0.03 percent of all days.”
The risk of being attacked by a pirate ship is significantly lower. But those who are hit have little of it.
No interest in professionals
In Wohlen, those affected are likely to be mostly temporary employees. These are usually hired at the end of August and prepared as quickly as possible for the big rush on Black Friday and Christmas. “They’re only here for a few months and it’s the worst of it,” says Fabrizio.
Larissa holds the group leaders primarily responsible for this: “Some do everything they can to get even more out of the temporary workers. They say, ‘Hey, if you make an effort, you’ll get a fixed contract.’ They know full well that this is anything but certain.” At the end of January, the temporary employees usually have to go again – and in August 200 to 300 new people are taken on again.
The employees with whom SonntagsBlick spoke consider the many temporary employees to be one of the fundamental problems at Digitec Galaxus. “The company is simply not interested in more permanent employees,” believes Larissa. Because that reduces flexibility. “Temporaries can be used anywhere, whether in incoming goods, in the pick tower or in packing – wherever they are needed. And they don’t complain because they depend on the job and the money.”
Working atmosphere positive?
Company spokesman Stephan Kurmann defends himself against these allegations: “We try to employ as many permanent employees as possible. However, we also need temporary employees in order to be able to cover the strong fluctuations.» Since 2020, Digitec Galaxus has taken on 400 temporary employees, which is 55 percent of all temporary employees that the company has hired on a fixed-term basis in these years.
Kurmann also emphasizes that the working atmosphere in the logistics center in Wohlen is mostly perceived as positive: “The results of the last employee survey from 2021 show that the satisfaction of our employees is at a high level compared to the market and has increased compared to the previous year.”
However, the employees who spoke to SonntagsBlick do not trust the results of the employee surveys. They say that some of these were filled out in the presence of the team leaders and that many people therefore do not dare to express their displeasure. In general, at least some of the employees in Wohlen have the feeling that their superiors do not listen to them. That’s why they decided to go public. Company paramedic Larissa is convinced: “I don’t think the management in Zurich knows what’s going on in Wohlen.”
At least now everyone knows. The question is how the captains in Limmatstadt will react to the emergency call from Aargau.
* Names changed
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