The fate of hundreds of staff employed by gym chain California Fitness hung in the balance yesterday as dozens of employees staged a protest at the office of a former boss over unpaid wages. There was also a fresh flurry of lawsuits over outstanding rents and rates in a drama that began last week with a winding up petition filed against operator JV Fitness – which also runs fitness and lifestyle outlets mYoga and Leap. The total number of outlets owned by JV Fitness that are in trouble of one sort now stands at five out of 12 outlets, with rental arrears close to HK$8.5 million. Hang Lung Properties told the Post that although there was no outstanding rental payments over the two Mong Kok outlets it rented to California Fitness and mYoga, it was now liaising with JV Fitness on this month’s rent. Some Mong Kok staff members gathered at BeSpark Technologies Engineering’s office in Kowloon Bay yesterday afternoon to join colleagues from six outlets in payment negotiations. The 57 new cases bring the total number of employees in need of union assistance to 67, more than one-tenth of the chain’s 500-strong staff, according to union estimates. But BeSpark owner Wong Ping-kuen, who was a JV Fitness director until May, did not show up at the two-hour meeting. Staff negotiated with JV Fitness’ vice-president in risk management, Midco Leung. A 10pm deadline was set for the chain operator to answer the unions’ demands for wages, commission and holiday arrears. Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu, who was helping the affected employees, said the chain’s financial chief had replied at about 10pm, saying that as its bank account had been frozen, the owner would try to draw HK$5 million from his private bank account to pay a month of basic salary to all the affected staff. More details are expected to be announced on Friday after a consultation with the bank. But Tang said the money would not be enough for an estimated of 300 affected employees. After the first closure on Monday of the chain’s Hung Hom outlet, the site’s landlord proceeded to ask the court to order the tenant to vacate the premises. In a writ filed in the High Court on Wednesday, Mossburn Investments of Hutchison Property group said JV Fitness had not paid a range of charges including rent and management fees, totalling HK$2.47 million. California Fitness’s sister gym Leap, in Kowloon Bay, was slapped with a legal claim for about HK$976,000 in outstanding rent and other charges. The fresh suits followed a separate claim filed earlier by the owner of the California Fitness location in Tuen Mun. A legal document had also been served to the Quarry Bay branch by the landlord’s solicitor. The Tuen Mun branch’s unpaid dues were put at HK$2.23 million, while the chain’s Quarry Bay shop owed HK$2.82 million.