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Luke Ching, artist and labour rights campaigner shares what motivates him to fight for a seat at the workplace for front line employees at convenience store chains.

I am delighted to announce that after months of hard work, Circle K has responded to the request to make it optional for front line employees to wear a cap.

Earlier in the year, I started a campaign against making workers in stores wear caps. Many of them felt it was too hot to wear a cap during summer and that the cap obstructs the vision of workers who need to climb up and down display stands to pack various products.

I would like to express my gratitude to the management of Circle K for this enhancement to its workforce.

This is yet another victory for the workers of Hong Kong. Let’s keep up the great work and continue to strive for a better working environment for employees.

It is no secret that a manpower shortage is a major challenge for the retail industry. Many employers have done a great job in attracting and retaining talent with generous salaries and perks, but working conditions is another major area which they can improve on to build a loyal workforce.

It is important for businesses, retailers in particular, to think out of the box to impress and attract consumers to stay profitable. However, this desire to create an incredible customer experience often results in a heavier workload for front line service providers, if it is not managed properly.

To ensure employees are able to meet the ever-changing and ever-growing list of rules and regulations on service standards, human resources practitioners are tasked with providing engaging training programmes to help employees learn the new rules.

But staff members are human beings, and sooner or later, they are going to break down or miss out on one or two service standards because they are exhausted after a long hard day.

Personally, I consider some of these rules excessive and bring unnecessary hardship to employees.

I do not see the business benefits of having rules specifying how front line staff members smile and stand or making them wear caps is going to enhance the customer experience.

Instead, I think these excessive rules are turning consumers against businesses. Here are two groups of consumers that I think will cause more harm than benefit to a business.

The first group is picky customers. The excessive rules encourage picky consumers to be pickier. They will not hesitate to complain on the smallest flaw in the service provided to them because they know what is expected out of employees according to the service standards. The business ends up having an extremely hard time trying to keep consumers satisfied.

The second group is consumers who refuse to spend money on certain brands because they disagree with how these brands treat their employees. Consumers have friends and families serving in the service industry.

Without question, they are upset by the unreasonable rules people who they care about have to endure at work. It is our role as consumers to tell companies that the excessive customer rules are not necessary.

My labour rights campaign first caught the media’s attention last year, when I started a campaign to raise awareness on cashiers’ right to sit. At some retail outlets, cashiers had to stand for hours until their feet went numb.

After media reports revealed the unfavourable working conditions at some of these retail outlets, a number of big names, including Wellcome, Mannings and Watsons, took action to provide chairs for front line staff members.

I am very happy and grateful to the management of these businesses in making the effort to create a better working environment. I would like to make use of this example to demonstrate to them the value of providing employees with better working conditions.

Many business owners will agree people are their most important asset, yet they are relying on an outsider like me to urge them not to ill-treat their most important assets.

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