[THE INVESTOR] Chanel Korea’s woes are getting worse as conflict between the management and its labor union appears to be heading nowhere, fast.
“Our conflict got worse after we began to protest,” Kim So-yeon, a Chanel Korea labor union representative told The Investor. “In particular, the talks on April 3-4 did not go well.”
The bottom line is that the firm has refused to give employees a raise of 6,000 won (US$5.64) per month. According to Kim, 70 percent of the 300 employees working at Chanel outlets are working for less than the minimum hourly wage of 7,530 won when considering they work around 12 hours a day.
Workers were naturally enraged when the firm raised the consumer price of 326 cosmetics products by up to 2.4 percent in January. Critics accused the French company of using the increase to cover the higher minimum wage rate, but Chanel Korea said in an official response that it was simply a management decision.
It’s been a decade since Chanel Korea employees formed a union. But since then, little progress has been made in terms of working conditions, according to unionists.
Since April 6, employees at more than 50 Chanel outlets located in Seoul have decided to don T-shirts outlining the union’s demands, instead of their formal uniform. The demands are mostly about hiring more people and getting a raise.
Kim said that before starting this informal strike, the labor union had tried to talk to the company for two months, but Chanel Korea was not cooperative. “They kept on making excuses to delay a meeting, saying that the person in charge has gone on a business trip and so on,” said Kim.
Employees are also asking to improve the working environment. One of the key issue is “grooming rules.” Although the company insists it’s not mandatory, it’s a sort of unwritten law for employees to dress and use makeup in a certain way. This takes up a lot of time, said one employee.
“Before 2017, there was even a rule that all employees should have black hair. This meant that workers with naturally brown color had to dye their hair.” Kim said. She said that this is just one of the examples that shows how strict the grooming rules are.
Chanel Korea, on the other hand, said that it is open to discussion. “We are planning to talk about improving the working environment with the labor union, including the wage issue,” a spokesperson said.
The problem of less-than-satisfactory working conditions is not only restricted to Chanel. Industry watchers point out that most foreign high-end cosmetics brands in general mistreat their employees.
The labor unions of ELCA Korea, which distributes cosmetics brands of Estee Lauder including MAC and L’Oreal, had raised similar concerns at the beginning of this year. But the two companies were able to reach an agreement with their unions. “We cannot disclose details about our agreement, but we solved the issue by accepting employees’ demands,” an L’Oreal spokesperson said.
By Song Seung-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)