In 2019, Vijay Gopal, an operations manager with the Amazon Development centre in Hyderabad, filed a complaint with Telangana’s Labour Department alleging that the billion-dollar corporation was overworking and underpaying its employees in India. A year later, Vijay, who is also a city-based anti-corruption activist, was terminated from the job. “My complaint was over Amazon not recording the work hours of its employees, making them work for over 12 hours a day per week. The company doesn’t calculate the lunch hours as work hours and makes employees do excess overtime beyond the limits set by the law,” alleges Vijay.
Vijay, who is also a consumer and human rights activist, had been working with Amazon since 2017, as an operations manager overseeing a team that does transaction risk investigations. Amazon Development Centre (India) Pvt. Ltd, is the India-based software development company of global online retailer Amazon.com. "The team takes action when the system shows transaction anomalies, and ensures there are no fake sellers or products over the platform. There are hundreds of employees under each operations manager that oversee such work. The work they do is crucial, it keeps the place running. The complaint I filed would benefit them the most. As a manager, I wasn’t eligible for overtime according to the company policy but these youngsters were being cheated of the money that’s due to them," Vijay alleges.
Under the Shops and Establishments Act, 1988 that governs working hours of employees working in the IT sector, an employee is allowed to work up to 8 hours per day and 48 hours a week. The 8 hours also includes a lunch break of one hour. The law caps the maximum a person can work at 50 hours a week, including a cap of six hours overtime in a week. Under the law, those found in violation of the S&E Act are punishable with fines as fixed by the government. In Telangana, the state government has given certain relaxations for IT companies under Government Order 25. However, the weekly working hours for an employee remain at 48 hours, and employees are entitled to overtime wages.
In his complaint to the Labour Commissioner for the state in July 2019, Vijay alleged that Amazon was violating the S&E Act with respect to calculating the weekly hours of its employees. Vijay also alleged that Amazon does not clock the work hours of its managerial employees.
All are requested to read the laws, n @JeffBezos n @AmitAgarwal read that! It's the law, n ur Chanchal Gupta n team seem to think their EGO supersedes laws, silly Legal Head u have. The great Indian culture, don't question, don't ask logic, just put up, WE WILL NOT. Write a COE.! pic.twitter.com/aw6FMi2B9G— VijayGopal (@VijayGopal_) November 30, 2020
“There is a no punch-in system, or punch out system for managerial employees. This leaves the door open for exploitation of workers as there is no record of how many hours a person has worked. Employees are made to work for 12-15 hours a day. The ground level employee do punch-in/out, however have overtime policy of up to 20 hours per week, the company claims they have exemption to make employees do 20 hours of overtime, while the authorities clarified through RTI response that no exemption was provided to any company. The company also excludes the one-hour lunch break while calculating work hours,” says Vijay, who adds that the contract signed at the time of employment is for 40 hours a week, but an employee ends up working for 9 to 12 hours for five days, which makes 45-60 work hours. “If it’s a peak work time, the hours stretch to 15 or 16 hours. The problem is not just limited to Amazon, but almost all IT companies do this," he adds.
The company also does not extend overtime to those in supervisor or managerial levels, says Vijay. “They cited Section 73 of the S&E Act which is for employees in the position of management and control over the affairs of the company. Operation managers like me are very low down in the pecking order and in no way have any control over the affairs of the company. The provision is clearly meant for board members and top executives, not ground managers and supervisors but they cite the section to deny overtime to a sizable chunk of employees who easily work 12 to 16 hours a day per week.”
Before filing his complaint with the Labour Department, in 2018, Vijay reached out to the company’s Human Resource and Legal team, seeking a clarification on work hours. "The legal team emailed me saying in Hyderabad, a maximum feasible 20 hours of overtime in a week was allowed. I asked them to show me which law or rule book says that, but haven’t gotten a clarification," says the activist.
The Labour Department initially held onto the complaint for over a year. However, after multiple follow-ups and a complaint against the Joint Labour Commissioner for his inaction, a hearing was held this October. “Nothing came of the hearing and in November, I was terminated. The Labour Department hasn’t given me a clarification on what action they have taken based on my complaint,” alleges Vijay.
The Labour Department officials were unresponsive to TNM’s questions, as most of the officials were on election duty for the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) polls.
TNM had sent Amazon an email with questions, and will carry their response, if and when it comes.