Hesperian Health Guides

Hesperian Health Guides

Chapter 19: Working too much, too fast, for too little

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HealthWiki > Workers' Guide to Health and Safety > Chapter 19: Working too much, too fast, for too little


In this chapter:
Bosses in export factories want workers to produce the most they can for the least amount of money. To do this, they pay workers as little as they can get away with and make them work long days, including overtime hours, at a dangerously fast pace. Workers often feel they have little choice but to do this if they want to keep their jobs and make enough money to survive.
3 workers thinking as they iron shirts in a garment factory.
I iron over 100 shirts in 1 hour. The standing is very painful, but it is my work...
It takes 2 days to travel home. I haven’t seen my children for 3 months.
I used to attend night classes, but I do not have time anymore.

But jobs are designed by people and can be changed by people. Workers, their supporters in the community, and the companies and people who buy their products can demand that employers fulfill their responsibility to:

  • pay a living wage, enough so workers don’t need overtime to live well.
  • give rest and meal breaks during the day.
  • prohibit mandatory overtime.
  • pay workers for sick time and pregnancy leave.
  • give workers at least 1 day off weekly and all legal holidays and vacations.
  • eliminate injuries from too-fast line speeds and high production quotas.


In many countries, rules covering wages, hours, and working conditions are already part of the law. Too often, governments fail to enforce these laws.


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