Supermarket giant Wellcome is now providing chairs for all on-duty cashiers, a positive response to a months-long campaign by labour rights advocates.

“Wellcome has always valued the occupational safety of our staff. Starting from April, chairs will be provided at cashier counters at all stores for staff to sit down occasionally to rest as needed,” a spokesperson for Wellcome told HKFP.

wellcome seat
A Wellcome store on Friday. Photo: HKFP.

The arrangement covers all sister stores of Wellcome, such as Market Place and ThreeSixty. The spokesperson said the company referenced the guidelines and recommendations of the Labour Department in drawing up the arrangement.

The supermarket chain came under fire in January after the Retail, Commerce and Clothing Industries General Union found that none of the 154 Wellcome outlets surveyed provided seats to cashiers during working hours.

Artist Ching Chin-wai led a campaign last year urging members of the public to put pressure on Wellcome and another supermarket giant, ParknShop. He said ParknShop began providing chairs for its cashiers shortly after he wrote to the company, but Wellcome stood firm on its policy.

Wellcome eventually started a pilot test last December to introduce chairs for cashiers at four branches. It promised to provide seating for cashiers at the rest of its 281 branches in the city at a later date.

File Photo: Wikicommons.

“This is good news, but we hope the Labour Department will make a law or set guidelines ensuring the workspace of cashiers is large enough to allow room for chairs. This will prevent companies from saying that there is no space for extra seatings,” Ching told HKFP.

He also noted that there is room for improvement for supermarket chain Citysuper and other chain stores in the city.

Occupational diseases

Besides cashiers, Ching has also led similar campaigns for other occupations such as security guards.

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.

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The Labour Department’s guide to preventing health hazards for retail workers. Photo: Labour Department.

It said prolonged standing can cause health problems such as muscle ache, back pain and swollen veins.

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

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.