“Heroes” of Amazon Continue to Face Exploitation During the Pandemic

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While many of us are privileged enough to be under home quarantine, there are people out there working to sustain us. From treating patients to delivering goods to our homes, these “essential workers” are risking their lives for us. The people that employ them have a moral obligation to improve their situation. However seeing the abject, miserable conditions they continue to face while working tells us that a lot needs to be done to improve it. One such employer is Amazon.

Being the biggest online retailer for all sorts of products, Amazon has seen a sudden spike in its work activity. As soon as Covid-19 went global, Amazon’s share price soared. Since people are homebound, they turn to buy their necessary everyday items online. This has resulted in the continuous workflow for Amazon’s warehouse workers and delivery people who have to ensure that supply meets demand. These workers come in close, regular contact with different people as they go about doing their jobs. Although this is against the norm of social distancing, which is the need of the hour, the argument “somebody’s gotta do it” comes into play. They do their work so that the customers stay at home. Hence, Amazon should make sure that their “Heroes” (Amazon’s preferred term for their essential workers) are protected, taken care of and adequately compensated.

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Like any ideal organization, it claims that protecting the workers is its topmost priority. Distributing safety equipment, conducting temperature checks at the warehouse, increasing the wages of their workers are some of the steps that Amazon claims it is taking to safeguard workers during this pandemic. This is all mentioned in the company’s blog. The workers, nevertheless, have a different story to tell.

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The “Heroes” have complained about the lax attitude of the management while dealing with the pandemic. It claims that adequate social distancing techniques are not followed. Their workplaces are reportedly unclean which puts the health of both the workers and their families at risk. There is a severe lack of protective equipment for the workers including masks and hand sanitizers.

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The business continued to supply non-essential items, which further evoked the ire of the workers and the authorities. Also, the stringent rules at work with regards to maintaining ‘productivity’ leaves less time for personal care. The wages were increased by just $2 in the US for those people who came for work. The impact of increasing the wage has been marginal and has potentially no real benefits in terms of purchasing power. It recently created the Amazon Relief Fund to support its partners and employees during this time of distress. However, the initial contribution was just $25 million. For a trillion-dollar company with the world’s richest man as its CEO, the sum donated to the Fund is a paltry one. 

The issue of paid sick leaves too has caught quite a bit of attention. Ideally, every company should give paid leaves for the workers. The online retail giant initially gave two weeks of paid sick leaves for employees who were diagnosed with Covid-19 or were placed under quarantine. It gave unlimited time off without pay to those workers who feared that coming in for work would put their health in jeopardy till the end of April. Now that the month is almost over, Amazon will enact a new policy where it will recall warehouse workers for scheduled shifts. According to Bloomberg, the $2 increase in wage rate is applicable through May 16. Those who cannot attend their warehouse duties must request a leave for absence

Amazon warehouse workers in France, Paris, Seattle, etc. have risen in protest over the abysmal conditions they face. It has consequently fired a few employees. Some have been fired under the garb of “breaking social distancing norms” by organizing protests and some have been fired for “repeatedly violating company policy” by commenting against Amazon’s negligence, both in past and in current times. These people were raising awareness about the hapless situation of their colleagues. Putting them out of work in times like these is a questionable act that deserves severe condemnation.

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Rijul Alvan
Half Bong, half Delhiite. This econ kid loves to sit under the cool shade a tree in a lush, green park. He uses 'People' instead of 'Guys' while addressing a group.

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