Amazon’s Growing Force in India

ACORN International Amazon India Politics Unions

Delhi      Amazon has gotten very big in India.  Walmart, our longtime nemesis, through its purchase of Flipcart, has joined Amazon in a fierce competition to dominate e-commerce in the country.  In a partnership with UNI, the global labor federation, and the nascent Amazon India Workers Association, ACORN and its affiliate, Janaphal, have been supporting the global Make Amazon Pay Campaign through direct organizing and researcher on working conditions and the terms and conditions of employment in Amazon warehouses.

In the Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), Amazon has now built dozens of warehouses.  Along the Delhi Jaipur highway near Manesar, Gurgaon, Amazon at present is operating six warehouses, and, after meeting with organizers, it seems we are focusing on gathering much of our information from DEL-4, a 1500-worker facility in that area.  Much of the structure of the work follows the Seattle-directed model so familiar to organizers in the USA and elsewhere.  Much of the workforce though is supplied by labor contractors in fixed-term contracts, some of which seem not to follow what is left of India labor laws, which have been the subject of extensive business-friendly revision.  The quotas for workers are rigid.  For example, picking (Per hour target for small items-120, medium items-120 and large items-70).

No slacking on this job, but that’s not the half of it.  Workers are required to log a 10-hour day, five days per week.  Workweek hours in India are set at 48 before overtime, but Amazon workers say they are not receiving overtime pay for the two hours over 48 on their schedule.  Incentive pay is available after 20 days without an absence, which speaks to turnover and attendance.  Shift differentials are equal to about $1.25 to $1.50 USD an hour.

Health and safety are issues.  Workers report no real assistance on first aid needs and are asked to not file complaints required on violations.  Breaks exist, but at such a distance from work stations that 20 minutes of the 20 is spent traveling to the dining area.  Break areas are non-existent.  Pictures supplied by workers have men and women sitting and lying in restrooms in order to take a break.  At DEL-4, about half of the workers are women.  The workforce is young, but on this job, they won’t stay that way.

We’ve done worker training and safety meetings away from the job that have been well attended.  We’ve done leadership development workshops.  Will workers organize?  That’s a harder question.

From all reports, unions, if anything, have gotten weaker over the last twenty years.  To the degree many were partners with political parties in state-run enterprises and these parties are now out of power, this heightens the problem, and the ruling BJP party is business-dominated and union-adverse.  Whole buildings of the major labor federations are virtually empty in Delhi with one run mainly from Chennai, as a footnote to how much they have lost national power in the capital and parliament.  In some legacy plants, unions remain strong, as one business acquaintance told me about an old sugar refinery operation, but in growing employment sectors, unions are largely absent.  The attack on the law is a factor, but the lack of organizing staffs and strategies is being felt throughout the country, as informal work continues to dominate, and major conglomerates, both domestic and foreign, like Amazon, too often have their way with workers and their work.