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Amazon India Warehouse Workers Allege No Relief Provided Even for Menstrual Pain

"The pain in our abdomen worsens, and our legs swell, but we have to keep standing and meet our targets."

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Women workers suffering from menstrual pain aren’t provided even a few minutes of rest or a chair to sit at Amazon warehouse facilities in India, workers allege.

"Whether the pain is mild or severe, we are forced to stand continuously during our 10-hour shifts. At most, we get a few minutes to place or change a sanitary pad. The pain in our abdomen worsens, and our legs swell, but we have to keep standing and meet our targets. If we don't, they block our ID cards and deny us work in all Indian warehouses," Manisha Kumar (name changed), an Amazon warehouse worker in Haryana, told The Quint in an interview.

The Indian government does not have a mandatory menstrual leave policy. When Dr Shashi Tharoor asked Smriti Irani, the then Minister of Women and Child Development in the December 2023 parliament session, she had said, “Menstruation is a physiological phenomenon among women and only a small proportion of women/ girls suffer from severe dysmenorrhea or similar complaints, and most of these cases are manageable by medication.”

“At present, there is no proposal under consideration of the government to make provision for paid menstrual leave mandatory for all workplaces,” she added.

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In January 2023, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed in the Supreme Court of India, seeking a directive for all states to create a menstrual pain leave policy for female students and working women under the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961. However, on 24 February 2023, the Supreme Court dismissed the PIL, suggesting the petitioner approach the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development for further consideration.

In India, since 1992, the Bihar government has provided a two-day special paid leave for menstruating workers. Additionally, in 2023, the Kerala state government announced menstrual leave for all female students under the higher education department.

Globally, a few countries such as Spain, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, and Zambia provide menstrual leave under different norms.

"I have seen many menstruating women suffering from severe pain at the Amazon workplace. Regardless of menstruation, women are forced to pick up heavy boxes at the warehouses. If we request help or complain, even quietly, we are threatened with termination," Manisha said, adding that continuous 10-hour standing shifts during periods cause her legs to swell. She has been working as a regular employee at one of the Amazon warehouses in Haryana since 2022.

According to her, during their 10-hour shifts, they get a one-hour break, split into 30 minutes for lunch and tea but 15 minutes of each 30-minute break is consumed by standing in queues and going through security checks. "Eventually, we get only 15 minutes to eat our food or drink tea. Even if we go to the washroom during periods, the supervisors yell at us. If we continue 'disobeying' them, we receive negative ratings."

Confirming what Manisha said, Nikitha Gokul (name changed), another Amazon warehouse worker at a different facility in Haryana, stated that if you receive negative ratings three times, you are terminated. "Once you are terminated, you won’t be able to work at any Amazon facility in India. Everything is software-controlled," she added.

According to Manisha and Nikitha, recruitment is handled by middlemen who primarily hire young girls. “Pregnant women are often terminated from their jobs, thereby avoiding the company’s responsibility to provide maternity leave in most cases,” Manisha added.

Meanwhile, in an interview with The Quint, Dharmendra Kumar, convenor of the Amazon India Workers Association, highlighted widespread issues faced by women in Amazon warehouse facilities across India. He expressed concerns over the denial of basic amenities such as restrooms and sickrooms, as well as the lack of provisions for menstrual rest and other essential working conditions.

"We are aware that these issues persist, as we regularly speak with aggrieved workers. With approximately 100 warehouses across India, each employing between 1,000 to 1,500 workers, there are around 1,50,000 warehouse employees in total. Above 50 percent or nearly 50 percent are women workers in these warehouses, who endure both physical and mental stress, particularly during menstrual periods,” Dharmendra stated.

According to him, in most warehouses across India, the Factories Act is violated.

“The Factories Act, 1948 (Chapter V) incorporates provisions to ensure the welfare of women workers. These include the establishment of canteens, restrooms, first aid boxes, facilities for sitting, washing, storing, and drying cloths, and crèches for women workers within the factory premises. Unfortunately, I am afraid that Amazon is not following this,” Dharmendra added.

On wages, he stated that the salary of a regular worker at an Amazon warehouse in Haryana, after deducting benefits as per labour laws, amounts to Rs 10,088 per month. "This is the minimum wage set by the Haryana state government. Minimum wages are determined by state governments, so there may be slight variations, but not significant ones."

Manisha also receives Rs 10,088 per month with two days off each week. However, she works around 50 hours per week, whereas Indian labour laws specify a limit of 48 hours per week.

Meanwhile, in addition to the absence of decent working conditions, workers at Amazon warehouses are forced to achieve unrealistic targets, said Dharmendra. For instance, according to Manisha, in her section, she is expected to handle 60 small items per minute, 45 medium items per minute, and 30 large items per minute.

"Is this target possible? Are we robots? Yes, we are standing robots for them. Even if we have menstrual pain, sickness, mental or physical stress, it doesn't matter to the supervisors. We are expected to work like robots. You know, Amazon thrives on people like us."
Manisha (named changed), speaking to The Quint

Lalitha Rajput, head of the Lucknow-based Mahila Sewa Sakthikaran Samithi, a labour rights organisation, told The Quint that workers must not be treated inhumanely. "I am aware that workers in Amazon warehouses are exploited, and we have been fighting for their rights for years. Companies like Amazon treat workers like machines, denying even menstruating women the rest they need despite their pain," Lalitha said.

However, an Amazon spokesperson told The Quint in an emailed response that, the safety and wellbeing of our associates and employees is the company's top priority.

“We’re confident the infrastructure and facilities at our fulfilment centres are industry-leading, designed to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment for our employees and associates. We offer a comprehensive menstrual leave policy for women associates, providing leave provisions and other facilities. All Amazon fulfilment centres have an AMCARE unit for associates who show symptoms of sickness with immediate access to resting space, heating pads and medical assistance from qualified nurses,” the spokesperson said.

“Women associates can extend their rest period at these units if experiencing menstrual cramps or can avail sick leave. The decision rests with the associate to choose any of these options. Also, all fulfilment centres have sanitary pad dispensing machines installed in women's washrooms for convenient access to sanitary products. We ensure awareness of this policy amongst managers and associates, creating a safe space for women to discuss menstrual issues,” they added. 

(Rejimon Kuttappan is an independent journalist, labour migration specialist and author of Undocumented [Penguin 2021].)

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