Fitness First accused of owing Hong Kong staff HK$2 million in back pay for public holidays

The city’s Labour Department has arranged a meeting between aggrieved personal trainers and the gym chain

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 10:49pm

Global gym chain Fitness First and at least 20 of its staff in the city are mired in a dispute over HK$2 million in wages, with personal trainers accusing the company of not reimbursing them fairly for public holidays.

Hong Kong’s labour law requires employees hired under a continuous contract for three months or more to be paid for 12 statutory holidays each year.

The rate of pay should be equivalent to the average daily wage earned by the employee in a 12-month period.

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But the aggrieved trainers said the Britain-based chain, which has nine branches in prime Hong Kong locations such as Tsim Sha Tsui Sheraton Hotel, told them that commissions paid to them would “cover” their pay for the statutory holidays.

A trainer who identified himself as Joe said on Wednesday: “As stated in the pay slip, they took part of our commission to cover our statutory holidays and annual leaves. The [human resources department] first refused to answer us…but later said it was stated clearly in the employment contract that they had the right to do so.

“This is not accepted by law,” he said.

The matter came to light when the Hong Kong Recreation and Sports Professional General Union on Tuesday issued a memo asking Fitness First staff who had not received wages and who had labour-related enquiries to contact them.

On Wednesday, union president Lee Yuet-man and lawmaker Michael Luk Chung-hung from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions held a press conference with about 20 of the gym’s trainers who had worked for the chain for between two and 17 years.

One of the trainers said he was fired this month for chasing up on the back pay owed to him. He claimed the amount totalled about HK$300,000 over an eight-year period and said the company told him he was fired as he had “underperformed”.

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Noting the rate of pay for statutory holidays, Lee said Fitness First had capped employees’ monthly salaries at HK$10,000 when calculating their average daily wages.

“We suspect the money involved could reach HK$20 million as [the company currently has] about 200 employees in total. This is unacceptable especially if the fitness giant is financially healthy,” Luk said.

In response to enquiries from the Post on Wednesday, Fitness First said that it calculated wages for statutory holidays according to the city’s Employment Ordinance.

“Regarding the matter in which our staff is seeking to recover the differences in statutory holiday wages, the company will handle the issue in accordance with the law.

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“We have also contacted the Labour Department proactively so that the officials could reach the staff concerned,” a spokesman said in a statement.

The Labour Department on Wednesday said it “had arranged a conciliation meeting for the concerned parties and will render necessary assistance.”

Fitness First has more than 360 fitness centres in over 16 countries worldwide, with over 20,000 members in Hong Kong, according to its website.

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In an online job advertisement last week – for staff including sales consultants and management trainees – the company said a fitness trainer could receive HK$10,000 in basic salary, with additional commissions for sales and conduct.

While the city has a thriving fitness centre industry, there is also a dark side. Major chains have closed without notice, leaving members stranded. In July 2016, California Fitness shut down its 12 outlets, affecting more than 60,000 people.

On Tuesday, members of TF Gym were told it had closed due to “legal problems”. Those who turned up at the club in Mong Kok on Tuesday were greeted by a shuttered main entrance, with a sign saying that the club would be closed until further notice.

Overall, the consumer watchdog received 554 complaints last year relating to recreation and health clubs, compared with 1,667 in 2016 and 577 in 2015.