STOMP it anytime, anywhere.
Download the new STOMP app today.
Ng Wei Kiat
The Straits Times
Dec 14, 2022
Health and beauty chain Watsons has said it does not have a no-sitting policy, in response to calls from employees and a workers’ rights group claiming that workers are not allowed to sit at their stations and have to stand for up to eight hours daily.
This comes after eight workers past and present contacted workers’ rights group Workers Make Possible with their complaints. The group then launched a social media campaign on their behalf asking for a change in company policy on cashiers and promoters sitting down.
In response to queries, Watsons said workers can take breaks as needed at rest areas.
“Watsons always sees employee welfare as a priority. We would like to clarify that we do not have a ‘no sitting’ policy,” the company told The Straits Times.
“We remain open to suggestions especially from our colleagues, and will review implementation as appropriate,” it added.
Workers Make Possible, along with a former Watsons employee, met Watsons management on Monday to discuss the issue, and also asked for workers to be given more frequent breaks.
Former Watsons cashier Nuzhatul Iman, 23, who was at the meeting, said pulling a shift at Watsons can be painful and exhausting, and much worse on workers older than herself. Ms Nuzhatul, who is currently back in school studying to become a radiographer, worked part-time in several Watsons outlets during the first half of 2021.
She said: “The policy is that the cashier is not given a chair... Once, I was so tired I sat down to rest at the cash register and I was told off by my supervisor.” She added that most outlets do have a chair in the backroom, but in general, cashiers are not allowed to take these to their stations.
A Watsons employee, who declined to be named as she is still with the company, said she has bad aches and pain in her left leg – a result of being on her feet for hours on end.
The 38-year-old single mother takes five nine-hour shifts a week. For the most part, aside from her one hour lunch break, she is not allowed to sit, she said. “My supervisors close an eye and let me sit down while I’m doing stock taking or in the back room but mostly, we are told that if we sit down at the cashier, it looks bad to customers,” she added.
She said her supervisors did allow her to take a chair to her station temporarily when she hurt her knee, but that it was not a permanent arrangement.
These conditions pushed them to contact volunteer-run group Workers Make Possible, which began a campaign by putting up social media posts, among other things. The group also asked Watsons for a response in September.
Community worker Suraendher Kumarr, a volunteer with Workers Make Possible, said the group was told about the issue by a former worker, which prompted it to take a closer look.
After seeing that many cashiers were not given chairs at the outlets they visited, the group in November began to put up posts about the issue on Instagram. That was when Watsons contacted the group and asked for a meeting.
Mr Kumarr said: “Not letting workers sit during long shifts is a very inhumane practice. It leads to many serious health issues such as varicose veins, insufficient blood flow, severe fatigue, immobility and damage to one’s joints and tendons to name a few.”
He added that he hopes Watsons will agree to make it their policy to allow workers to sit during their shifts and to provide appropriate stools or chairs for workers at their cashier stations.
Community worker Kokila Annamalai, who is also involved in the group, said the issue of not being allowed to sit is a much wider one possibly affecting thousands of workers, and that Workers Make Possible has spoken directly to over 27 of them from various retail and F&B companies.
In response to queries, the Singapore Manual and Mercantile Workers’ Union said Watsons in Singapore is not a unionised company.
It said: “That being said, the union understands that Watsons Singapore is gathering feedback from some of its staff regarding sitting down during shifts.”
It added that under the Employment Act, companies in Singapore must allow break times for employees.
SMMWU is the largest union affiliated to NTUC, representing mainly commerce and service workers in the private sector. It said the union stands in solidarity with workers and they are welcome to approach SMMWU to share their concerns and grievances at email@example.com.
There are no specific provisions for employees being allowed to sit in the Employment Act.