Hesperian Health Guides
We are not robots!
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Every person needs time to rest, relax, and take part in family and community life. But employers want us to work like robots that never feel pain nor fall in love, do not have families, never get sick, and have no lives outside the factory. They want workers to be like robots and never complain, question, challenge, or change a factory system that makes them poor, sick, and tired.
Working too fast or for too long leads to more stress and more injuries, including overuse injuries of muscles and joints (see Chapter 7: Ergonomics).
Long working hours do not leave us enough time to take care of personal or family needs. Pressure from work comes home with us and can make us feel tense and nervous. Feeling too much "stress" can lead to a variety of physical and mental health problems.
Women are especially affected by stress from long working hours because after a day of work even more work awaits them in taking care of their families.
Exhaustion occurs when your body and mind can no longer cope with pressures at work and home. It is not just feeling tired, which is common after a long day at work. People who have reached the point of exhaustion may feel extreme fatigue that does not go away with sleep or rest. You might feel pain in muscles and joints, have stomach problems, skin rashes, sore throats, and headaches. Women often will have problems with their monthly bleeding, miscarriages, or other problems with pregnancy. Exhaustion also weakens your body’s defenses against infection and illness. It can make you less able to think clearly, solve problems, or enjoy being with family and friends. Having time to rest and relax can help reduce and prevent exhaustion.
People who work long or unpredictable hours have less time to buy fresh food and cook meals. They often cannot afford to buy prepared meals. If the factory does not provide meals, a place to store food, or time to eat, workers are likely to go hungry or fill up on highly processed "junk foods." (For more about the importance of food, see Chapter 28: Eating well for health.)
Finding ways to buy fresh food
In the Las Mercedes export zone in Nicaragua, we work 12 to 14 hours a day just to earn enough to survive. Working late in the evening meant we could not go to the market to buy fresh food. A few years ago, a group of merchants began a weekly night market near the zone. We liked it so much it now is a daily market. The market stays open a few hours after most workers get out, which allows us to buy better food for ourselves and our families.
Tired workers sometimes take or are forced to take stimulant drugs so they can keep working and not feel so tired. Some bosses give workers pills or put drugs in drinking water to keep them awake during long shifts. These drugs make your heart beat faster and raise your blood pressure. Drugs that keep you awake may keep you from feeling hungry even when you need to eat, make your mouth dry, and make it difficult to pass stool.