Workers’ rights group to meet Watsons over the “Right to Sit” for retail workers

Workers’ rights group to meet Watsons over the “Right to Sit” for retail workers

SINGAPORE — Workers Make Possible (WMP), a worker rights group, will be meeting with Watsons Singapore today (12 Dec) at 4.30 pm over complaints from the company’s staff that they are not allowed to sit down during their shifts, leading to chronic pain and other concerning health issues.

On their IG account @workersmakepossible, the group stated that they have been speaking to workers about their experiences across various Watsons outlets and the physical toll that standing for long hours has taken on them.


Last Sunday (4 Dec), the group announced that they would be meeting with executives from Watsons Singapore and publicly called for more current or former Watsons workers to share their experiences with the group so that they could be represented at the meeting.

WMP also observed that, in some Watsons outlets, pharmacists could sit down while cashiers did not have chairs, suggesting the possibility of differential treatment by Watsons towards staff in different roles.

No chairs can be seen behind the cashier counter of these Watsons outlets at Plaza Singapura and Poiz Centre(Source: WMP)
Pharmacists provided with seats (Source: WMP)

A former Watsons worker also corroborated that Watsons’ pharmacists were provided seats behind their counters but not retail staff.

“I was a locum staff at Watsons last year and have done cashiering […] I’ve worked a few outlets and I don’t remember any stools or chairs for us. We are concerned about the long standing hours, expected non-stop work and insufficient breaks. We want better welfare for the minimum-wage staff. It’s very odd too that pharmacists are able to have seats within their counters but not the retail staff in Watsons.”

Some netizens also shared their own experience working at Watsons in the past.

One commenter said that she told her boss she was “never going to promote in any Watsons anymore” after her poor experience of not being allowed to sit or take a break as a Watsons promoter.

“I have worked in several retail companies before. Watsons is just one of many retail companies that does not allow its workers to sit during our shifts. I believe that workers in the retail industry should get “seated” breaks. 10 minutes for every 1-2 hours for example.”
Others expressed concern for older workers, especially in light of Singapore’s ageing population, with some sharing stories of older family members suffering long-term chronic health problems from standing for long durations, or being reprimanded for taking breaks.

“My mum works at @isetansg as a cashier and she always complains about her feet and knees aching from standing. She has to get injections & medication & regular tcm massages but even then the pain is still affecting her greatly.”

“My dad works for one of the biggest supermarket chains in Singapore. He was tasked to stand at [the] entrance advising customers who entered the supermarket to scan their temperature… he was reprimanded when he was sitting down for a rest during peak hours… btw, he is 75yrs old.”

Many commenters noted that this is a prevalent practice among businesses in retail and FnB sectors here, including supermarkets, hotels, the TCM health products provider Eu Yan Seng, NUH pharmacies, the departmental stores Isetan and Metro, and the restaurant Wine Connection.

Some called for such cases to be brought to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Work Safety and Health Council (WSHC).

However, Singapore currently lacks any “right to sit” laws or protections for workers.

Several customers shared their views that they did not feel that staff sitting would alter their professionalism, with one netizen pointing out that Mustafa’s staff, who are allowed to sit, “look perfectly professional”.

Another commenter noted that Singapore lagged behind other countries in this respect, as “overseas supermarkets allow their workers to sit while scanning items […] there’s nothing wrong with sitting if you get the job done.”

The Right To Sit And Long-Term Health Effects

The right to sit refers to laws or policies granting workers the right to suitable seating at the workplace. Countries which have right-to-sit laws include the United Kingdom and Malaysia.

A right-to-sit provision is included in Article 14 of the International Labour Organization’s Hygiene (Commerce and Offices) Convention, 1964. However, Singapore has not ratified it.

Standing for long periods of time is known to cause stress on the joints of one’s knees and feet, as well as cause varicose veins. A 2014 review of various studies found that prolonged standing at work caused chronic conditions such as lower back and leg pain, heart problems, fatigue, discomfort, and even pregnancy-related health outcomes.

study by Canadian researchers on 7,300 Ontario workers aged 35 to 74 found that the risk of heart disease was higher among those who mainly stood on the job compared to those who mainly sat.

WorkersMakePossible’s Asks From Watsons:

WMP has stated that their tasks going into the meeting are to get Watsons to:

  1.  allow workers to sit during shifts, and
  2. provide standing stools/chairs for all retail staff, including cashiers, to protect their workers’ health and well-being, and
  3. allow workers whose jobs require some standing (e.g. promoters) sufficient seated breaks of 15 minutes every 1.5 hours so that they can rest their feet.

The group notes that given the lack of right-to-sit laws in Singapore, companies like Watsons can take the initiative by including right-to-sit protections in their employment contracts.

Unionised retail and FnB staff can also push their unions to negotiate for such protections on their behalf, said the group.

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