The Wellcome supermarket chain has come under fire for failing to protect workers’ health as it emerged that they do not provide chairs for on-duty cashiers.

The Retail, Commerce and Clothing Industries General Union said Thursday that none of the 154 Wellcome branches it surveyed provided seats to cashiers during working hours. It slammed the company for disregarding the wellbeing of its workers. Prolonged standing carries health risks such as muscle ache, back pain and swollen veins, it said.

File Photo: Wikicommons.

In response, Wellcome said that it is conducting a pilot test to introduce chairs for cashiers at four branches: Beacon Hill, Johnston Road in Wanchai, San Fung Avenue in Sheung Shui, and Avon Park in Fanling.

It promised to gradually provide chairs to cashiers at all 281 Wellcome branches in the city.

According to an occupational health guide issued by the Labour Department, retail employers are advised to ensure the safety and health of their workers by providing seats at their workplaces.

Employers should ensure that employees are allowed to be seated “unless operational needs warrant otherwise,” the guide said.

labour department guide retail
The Labour Department’s guide on preventing health hazards for retail workers. Photo: Labour Department screenshot.

But the union said the guide, which is not legally binding, is not enough to protect workers’ rights. It urged the Labour Department to include leg fatigue in its list of compensable occupational diseases and enforce the Occupational Safety and Health Ordinance against employers who violate the law.

It also demanded that Dairy Farm International, which operates the Wellcome chain, review policies in all of its retail stores to ensure the safety of their workers.

Activist Ching Chin-wai, who helped lead the campaign, told HK01 that Wellcome failed to respond to public enquiries about the progress and details of its pilot test. He slammed the supermarket chain for “disrespecting” its employees and avoiding public accountability. Ching previously led similar campaigns for other occupations such as security guards.

The retail union is a member of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions.

Ellie Ng has written for Foreign Policy, the Daily Telegraph, Global Voices Online and others.