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Workers At Amazon Warehouse Swear Off No Toilet Or Water Breaks Until Goals Met

In May, at an Amazon India warehouse in Manesar, Haryana, a 24-year-old worker was compelled to pledge to forgo toilet and water breaks until unloading six trucks during a 30-minute tea break. Despite an Amazon spokesperson's assurance of prioritizing employee safety, concerns over working conditions persist, including unrealistic targets and alleged violations of labor laws.

Edited By : News24 Desk | Updated: Jun 14, 2024 12:15 IST
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Amazon India warehouse worker conditions revealed amid safety concerns and labor rights violations, sparking international scrutiny.
Amazon India warehouse worker conditions revealed amid safety concerns and labor rights violations, sparking international scrutiny.

On May 16, at one of Amazon India’s warehouses in Haryana’s Manesar, a 24-year-old worker was asked to pledge that they would not take toilet or water breaks until they finished unloading packages from six trucks, each measuring 24 feet long, after their team’s 30-minute tea break had ended.

In the past month, the warehouse’s ‘inbound team’ has taken the pledge approximately eight times, especially on busy days with higher workloads, as confirmed by employees. The ‘outbound team’, however, has only taken the pledge once but is reminded of their targets daily. The outbound team handles items destined to leave the warehouse, while the inbound team manages items received from other sources.

When questioned about the matter, an Amazon India spokesperson stated, ‘We are looking into these allegations. However, it’s important to clarify that such requests are not part of our standard business practices. If any such incident is found to have occurred, we will take immediate action to halt it and ensure the manager involved undergoes re-training on our standards for team support, health, and safety. Our investigation is ongoing.’

The 24-year-old, who works ten hours a day for five days a week and earns Rs 10,088 per month, stated, ‘Even if we work continuously without breaks, including the 30-minute lunch and tea breaks, we cannot unload more than four trucks per day.’

‘Only two days ago, we made a commitment to forego water and restroom breaks to enhance performance and meet our goals,’ he asserted, noting that senior members even monitor restrooms and other areas to ensure employees are not wasting time there unnecessarily.

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He mentioned that women are the worst affected. The trucks become hot after being parked outside, causing them to quickly exhaust themselves when unloading goods.

According to The Guardian, Amazon has also encountered similar accusations internationally. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US cited the company in 2022 and 2023 for unsafe working conditions, ergonomic risks, and inadequate injury reporting at six warehouses.

Labour associations in India have accused five warehouses in and around Manesar of violating regulations outlined in the Factories Act, 1948. Despite Haryana amending its regulations to allow for work hours of less than 10 hours per day, the company has extended its employees’ shifts from 8:30 am to 6:30 pm. According to the Act, factory workers must be compensated at double the standard rate for any hours worked exceeding nine per day or 48 per week. Nevertheless, advocacy groups argue that this entitlement is not being honored.

The Act also stipulates rest intervals, stating that no worker should labor for more than five consecutive hours without taking a rest break of at least half an hour.

A female employee at the Manesar warehouse reported that there are no restroom facilities available onsite. ‘If we feel unwell, our only choice is to use the washroom or locker room. There is a sick room with a bed, but workers are instructed to leave after 10 minutes,’ she alleged. She also mentioned that her department, handling customer returns, was required to take an oath. ‘Repeat after me: we will achieve the target, refrain from using the washroom, and avoid drinking,’ she reiterated the oath.

She claimed that once, when she was found resting in a restroom, the supervisor photographed her ID card and threatened to have it deactivated. The woman, who earns Rs 10,088 monthly and is responsible for inspecting returned items for refund eligibility, stated, ‘I stand for nine hours daily and am required to evaluate 60 small products or 40 medium-sized products per hour.’

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Dharmender Kumar, convenor of the Amazon India Workers’ Association, pointed out that factories and warehouses in Haryana, established to serve customers in Delhi, allow the company to reduce costs. He highlighted discrepancies such as minimum wages being Rs 21,000-23,000 in Delhi compared to Rs 11,000-13,000 in Haryana. According to him, the work targets are unrealistic and there is no provision for seating, which violates the Factories Act. While labor inspectors have the authority to demand corrections, there is limited enforcement. Kumar added that the absence of a union poses challenges for workers.

According to an Amazon spokesperson, the safety and well-being of employees remains their foremost priority. ‘All our facilities are equipped with heat index monitoring devices, and we vigilantly track temperature fluctuations, particularly in summer. Should we detect rising heat or humidity levels indoors, our teams promptly implement measures to maintain comfortable working conditions, which may include temporary work suspensions. Our buildings are equipped with cooling solutions such as ventilation systems, fans, and spot coolers. We ensure ample water supply and hydration options, along with scheduled rest breaks in cooler areas. Additionally, during high temperatures, employees are granted extra breaks. Throughout their shifts, employees have the flexibility to take informal breaks to use restroom facilities, hydrate, or speak with a manager or HR,’ the spokesperson added.

First published on: Jun 14, 2024 12:05 PM IST

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