Staff angry as death blunder beauty chain allegedly closes 30 shops

DR beauty centre staff protest at new contracts; unionist says 30 outlets have shut and business is down 95pc after blood therapy killed customer

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 4:07am

Only one in four outlets of an embattled beauty chain remains in operation after a treatment blunder that left one woman dead and three others in hospital, a trade unionist said yesterday.

The DR beauty centre is also making 500 staff transfer to other companies that apparently offered unfavourable employment terms, according to Amy Hui Wai-fung, chairwoman of the Beauty and Fitness Professional General Union.

Hui said employees stood to lose tens of thousands of dollars in notice and severance pay. The Labour Department has been contacted about the alleged enforcement of new contracts, she said.

An employee who met reporters yesterday said only 10 out of 40 DR centres were still running, and that staff numbers were expected to shrink by half to 500.

Hui said DR was also selling some of its branches to other companies, and showed journalists an internal notice purportedly from the chain which said business had dropped 95 per cent since early October, when four of DR's customers went into septic shock and contracted a deadly superbug from an "anti-cancer" treatment that involved high-risk blood transfusions. One client, aged 46, died on October 10 of multiple organ failure, while the other three, aged between 56 and 60, are still in hospital two months later.

Hui said: "It is really unscrupulous of the DR company to treat its staff members so unfairly. The company should compensate them properly, as they had been working very hard during this tough period."

Hui made the allegations on behalf of more than 20 women who claimed to be DR staff at a media conference. The women did not identify themselves, instead wearing facial masks, sunglasses and hooded jackets.

The employee who said 30 branches had shut said staff who had signed new contracts found themselves hired by four different companies, and some were required to start work this month.

A colleague said DR had not paid them commission fees for four years. Yet another broke down in tears as she said two managers forced her to sign a contract termination document. They also made her sign a new contract and told her to persuade her customers to continue their treatments at the other firm. Under the new contracts, staff who failed to chalk up at least HK$100,000 of business in two months could be fired, and the firms were not obliged to grant paid maternity leave, she said.

Hui said: "When [staff] were looking through the new contract, they had little time to think it over. The managers covered part of the terms while asking them to sign. They got a copy only after they had signed."

Legislator Alice Mak Mei-kuen, of the Federation of Trade Unions, condemned the "irresponsible treatment" of DR employees. Mak said she hoped the changes afoot at DR would not hinder compensation to the four victims or their families.

DR said staff had been given ample time to read the new contract before signing. It did not reply to questions about whether the company had forced staff to terminate their contracts and if it was selling out or closing down.

Additional reporting by Amy Nip