Workers denied bathroom breaks in poultry industry

by Miklos Bolza16 May 2016
In the fast-paced world of the US poultry industry, some processing plant staff are being denied the right to adequate bathroom breaks, says Oxfam America.
 
In a new report, No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in Poultry Industry, workers spoke of having to wait excessively long times – an hour or more – before they are permitted to leave their station and go to the bathroom.
 
Furthermore, they say they are only given five or ten minutes for the break, racing to finish the task in time or running the risk of discipline by their superiors. In some instances, supervisors mock their needs before permitting them to leave their station.
 
Oxfam writes that some employees have begun using extraordinary measures to prevent accidents by either wearing diapers on the job or restricting their liquid intake to dangerous levels.
 
“Supervisors deny requests to use the bathroom because they are under pressure to maintain the speed of the processing line, and to keep up production,” the report said.
 
Ideally there would be replacement workers to take over from those on their bathroom break, Oxfam writes. However, this isn’t the case in many processing plants.
 
One survey of 266 workers in Alabama found that almost 80 per cent said they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks when needed. Another survey in Minnesota revealed that 86 per cent of workers received less than two bathroom breaks per week.
 
Women are hit especially hard, Oxfam writes, especially when it comes to dealing with monthly periods or pregnancy.
 
“As women, we take a little longer to assess our needs and feel clean. Instead of letting us use the bathroom, they threaten us, humiliate us to the point of filing claims with human resources to discharge us,” Laura, a factory worker, told Oxfam.
 
While denial of bathroom breaks can cause embarrassment, it can also lead to serious health risks, the report said.
 
“One study of the biological effects of not being able to use the bathroom when necessary reported that the pressure on the bladder and the urethra can cause kidney damage, infection, and even death.”
 
The biggest risk is developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) which are ten times more common in women than men. Untreated, UTIs can lead to kidney infection, chills, fever, back pain, nausea and more.
 
Oxfam recommended a number of policy and procedural changes to combat this issue including:
  • Giving workers access to bathroom breaks when required
  • Allowing workers to submit grievances without being punished
  • Ensuring staffing numbers are sufficient enough to maintain production levels while still allowing time for adequate bathroom breaks
  • Conducting regular reviews and monitoring to ensure full compliance with the law
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