Amazon started laying off thousands of employees globally as 2022 drew to a close. The giant corporation has cut jobs across its various businesses, citing losses. India accounts for about 7% of Amazon’s total workforce of over 1.5 million. It was reported in early January 2023 that 18,000 Amazon employees in India had been laid off since September 2022.
The Nascent Information Technology Employees Senate (NITES), a union of IT/ITES workers, wrote a letter to the union Labour minister in November 2022, asking the government to intervene in the layoffs being conducted by Amazon in India.
The union accused Amazon of violating India’s labour laws. It reported that it has received complaints from Amazon employees that they are being forced to submit their resignations and make it appear as if it is voluntary. In its response to the enquiry by the Ministry, Amazon India denied the reports of mass layoffs and stated that the workers had voluntarily resigned under the “Voluntary Disengagement Programme”.
NITES has reported that Amazon India had told its employees via internal communication early-November, that those who do not declare they have voluntarily resigned would be retrenched without any benefits under a “workforce optimisation programme.”
The impacted Amazon employees were given a grace period until November 29 to decide whether they want to resign voluntarily by November 30. In other words, they had a say only in the manner they lost their jobs!
The NITES’ petition to the minister has pointed out that “As per procedures laid down under Industrial Dispute Act the employer cannot, without prior permission from the appropriate government, lay-off an employee featuring on the muster rolls of the establishment.” Further, a worker who has served for at least a year of continuous service cannot be retrenched unless served a notice three months in advance and prior permission from the appropriate government.
Recently, Amazon India has announced its exit from three businesses in India – wholesale e-distribution (Amazon Distribution), food delivery (Amazon Food), and its ed-tech business (Amazon Academy). The food delivery business was started in May 2020, during the countrywide lockdown, while the ed-tech business was launched in 2021. However, wholesale distribution was established before the pandemic.
According to reports, Amazon has been reviewing all its loss-making units to find areas where costs can be cut. It has shut down the loss-making ones and is already looking for new opportunities.
Monopoly capitalists decide which branches of their business to shut down, and which new branches to set up business in, solely driven by the drive to maximise their profits. They consider workers merely as a cost, and do not care if thousands of workers have to be thrown out onto the streets without a job. The monopoly capitalists look at questions such as efficiency of their businesses purely from the point of view of maximising profits. They do not look at it from the point of view of society.
Thousands of workers are being laid off, not just by Amazon, but by several other companies. Crores of workers are deprived of the opportunity to work and thus contribute productively to the economy. The growing army of unemployed workers is a burden on society.Taken as a whole, capitalist society is extremely inefficient.
The workers union has raised an important issue that the government is duty bound to defend the rights of the workers who have lost their jobs. The Industrial Disputes Act demands that layoffs and closures in such large companies can take place only with the permission of the appropriate government. The central government must publicly state whether it has sanctioned the layoffs by Amazon, or not. If Amazon has not got such a sanction, action must be taken against it for violating Indian labour laws.
At the same time, workers must not have illusions that the state – the government ministries and departments, labour courts, etc., will defend their rights. In this system, the orientation of the economy is to fulfill the greed of monopoly capitalists. The Indian state defends this orientation of the economy. In this system, it is legal for a capitalist to employ or lay off workers based on their usefulness to him in his enterprise. The Central and state governments defend this “right” of the capitalist.
There is an alternative to this capitalist system. We must fight to establish worker peasant rule in place of the rule of the bourgeoisie. Then we will be able to reorient the economy to fulfilling the needs of all members of society. It will be a system where fulfilling the ever growing needs of workers and peasants will be the aim of production. It will be a system in which production will be regulated by the requirements of society, and fulfilment of the requirements of society will be the basis for planning for the economy. When all available resources are invested according to such a plan, investments and expansion in production will generate new employment on a very large scale.
Such a planned development of the national economy will save society from periodical economic crises disruptive to the national economy and causing tremendous material damage to society. In this economy too, efficiency of every enterprise will be a matter of concern, but the decision to shut down an enterprise will be accompanied by a plan to re-locate workers to another plant, retrain them for new tasks and so on.
Consequently, instead of the constant threat of sudden and abrupt loss of livelihood for thousands of workers, there will be security of livelihood for every worker in the economy.