Google headquarters in Paris. Google headquarters in Paris.Photographer: Chesnot/Getty Images

Google and Amazon Struggle to Lay Off Workers in Europe

US tech giants Google and Amazon are facing difficulties with reducing their headcount in Europe due to labor protections that make it challenging to dismiss workers without prior consultations with employee interest groups. While tech companies in the US can announce widespread job cuts and let go of hundreds or thousands of workers within months, mass layoffs among tech companies in Europe have stalled. This has left thousands of tech workers in limbo, unsure whether they will be affected by negotiations that can drag on indefinitely.

In France, Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, is currently in talks to reduce headcount through voluntary departures, offering generous severance packages to encourage workers to leave. Amazon has attempted to get some senior managers in France to resign by offering up to one year’s pay and has granted leave to departing employees so their shares can vest and be paid out as bonuses.

In France and Germany, where labor laws are among the strongest in the European Union (EU), Google is currently in negotiations with works councils – company-specific groups whose elected employee representatives negotiate with management about workforce issues. By law, companies are required to bargain with these councils before implementing layoffs, a lengthy process that includes information gathering, negotiations, and the possibility of recourse.

The labor protections have created different standards of treatment between employees in the US and those in Europe. More than 170,000 full-time tech workers are employed on the continent and in the UK by Amazon, Alphabet, and Meta, with software engineers often earning salaries that are half as much as their counterparts in the US.

The lobby inside Google’s office in Berlin.
Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

To expedite negotiations, unions recently established a cross-country Google works council for EU countries, which includes the UK and Switzerland. It is expected to be operational in about six months and will be a powerful collective voice in future negotiations. The European Works Council will be comprised of representatives who are Google employees and will serve for a four-year term. Council members will liaise with Google management and will be headquartered in Dublin.

The different standards of treatment have not created friction among Google employees spread around the world. However, people have realized that the way things happen in the US versus France and Germany is different. The situation is seen as a blueprint for what people can fight for in the US.

The challenges that big tech companies are facing in Europe when it comes to reducing their workforce are not new. European labor laws are known for being strong and protective of employees, making it difficult for companies to implement layoffs without going through lengthy negotiation processes and complying with strict legal requirements.

Despite the challenges, US big tech companies continue to operate and expand their presence in Europe, with thousands of employees working for them. The recent struggles with layoffs are a reminder that navigating the differences in labor laws and regulations across different countries can be complicated, and that companies need to carefully plan and strategize their workforce reduction efforts.

In the case of Google and Amazon, both companies are currently in talks with works councils and employee representatives to negotiate voluntary departures and severance packages. These negotiations can take weeks or even months, and the outcome is not always guaranteed.

Meanwhile, employees are left in limbo, uncertain about their future and whether they will be affected by the ongoing negotiations. This uncertainty can be stressful and demotivating, which can negatively impact employee morale and productivity.

Overall, the struggles that Google and Amazon are facing in Europe when it comes to reducing their workforce highlight the importance of understanding and complying with local labor laws and regulations. While these laws can be challenging for companies, they are designed to protect employees and ensure fair treatment in the workplace.