‘Homelessness a great excuse to work harder’

Barapukuria coal miners and Amazon workers say at discussion on boosting productivity

Is it better to stay in a toilet for seven months with four others or is it better to work 10-hour shifts with no toilet breaks?

This and other productivity-enhancing tools were discussed in the first ever Symposium of Very Poor People Workers, participated in by coal miners from Dinajpur's Barapukuria and Amazon workers from Alabama.

Both sets of workers discussed the various systems put in place by their esteemed organisations to boost their productivity.

"Our employer, the richest man in the world, wants us to have his mentality. He ensures that we break our backs in 10-hour workdays with only two 30-minute breaks. We usually stay on our feet and have to show initiative throughout the time period and groom our own selves to be leaders," Frank Smith, an Amazon worker, said at the discussion.

"We had to stay in a toilet for seven months. Because of the pandemic, our employers are very concerned about our safety, so after we took our Covid tests, we were locked in our work area for seven months," Afzal Hossain, a coal worker, said.

Sohan Fakir, the minister for underpaid workers, during his keynote speech, said happy workers were productive workers and productive workers made the most money.

"I remember the seven months of captivity for the coal miners. Nothing builds team work than being locked in a place, without friends or family, for seven months. This decision by your authorities deserves to be celebrated," Sohan said, calling for international recognition for the initiative.

Jamil Rahman, a labour union leader, stressed on the importance of the many gaslighting techniques employers use to make their workers work harder. "A good employer will always find faults in what you do. They will hound you till the imposter syndrome sets in. Till you question whether you actually even worked hard after a grueling 10-hour day," he said.

Jamil cited a study by a professor for the Work and Organization Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which showed that the behaviours that 'imposters' exhibit in an attempt to compensate for their self-doubt can actually make them good at their jobs.

"By nurturing the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, imposters can actually outperform their non-imposter peers in interpersonal skills," he said, urging employers to ensure job satisfaction doesn't reach the levels of getting too comfortable.

"I am ashamed to ask for higher wages because my boss always tells me I can do better. She never says how, but just that they can see I can do an extra few hours for free to show that I have initiative," Hasan Ameen, another coal miner said, adding that now he works three hours free and hopes to get that promised promotion soon.

Katherine Blight, an Amazon employee, said their organisation has a great system in place to see exactly how much workers are working. "We have a wonderful dehumanizing system, which tracks exactly how much time we spend scanning items and how much time we don't. Slacking off at work usually means you are fired and with no pension or insurance, we can't afford that. Knowing homelessness is two missed pay cheques away works as an amazing incentive for us," she said during her speech.

Her coal miner counterparts agreed with this sentiment, saying their government's move to not have any rent control in place also served as encouragement to keep grinding.