The Labour Conditions of the Brand Garment Sales Workers in Taiwan amid the Pandemic

Youth Labor Union 95, Taiwan
Written by: Chia-Wei Liang, Nei-Pon Chang
Reviewed by: Ray Cheng
Editor: May Tam

Foreword

The world had been besieged by the Covid-19 pandemic throughout 2020.  As of 7pm on 31 December 2020, there were at least 82,676,050 confirmed cases, including 1,806,072 deaths worldwide.  However in Taiwan, the pandemic was contained at an earlier time when compared with other places.  The financial news agency, Bloomberg, put Taiwan on the second place in “The Covid-19 Resilience Ranking”, only next to the top one, New Zealand.   

The pandemic plagued the world with immense economic recession in 2020, whereas Taiwan experienced a relatively earlier revival.  This report concludes the Taiwan situation and explores its labour conditions of the brand garment sales workers amid the pandemic.  The information researched includes Taiwan government’s relief measures provided to the industry and the impact the pandemic had imposed on the sector’s working conditions, including work hours, salary and job content.

The following research report outlines in Part I and II respectively Taiwan’s pandemic situation and the  government’s relief measures benefiting the brand garment retailers.  Part III is the research results of how the brand garment sales workers were being affected by the pandemic while Part IV is a concise summary. 

I. Taiwan’s pandemic situation:

The Covid-19 pandemic started with information of cases spread out in December 2019.  The first confirmed case in Taiwan emerged in January 2020.  The patient was a Taiwan businessperson working in Wuhan.  The Taiwan government started border control in early February.  The first measure was banning the entry of people with Chinese nationality (not including those from Hong Kong and Macau) as well as aliens who had recently entered China, while Hong Kong and Macau people had to undergo home quarantine for 14 days upon entry to Taiwan.  Starting from 19 March 2020, entry restrictions were imposed on all people of non-Taiwan nationality, and all Taiwanese returning home from abroad were required to take a 14-day home quarantine.  In early April, wearing face masks was made compulsory for all public transport passengers.  

After mid-April, there had no more Covid-19 cases in Taiwan until 253 days later in the end of December when a new local case emerged again, but that showed no signs for a large-scale return of the pandemic.  Bloomberg described Taiwan as a place in the world with the longest period recording no local cases.

On 7 June, the lockdown in Taiwan was largely lifted and public transport passengers were allowed to put away face masks but only keeping social distances was needed.  Eating and drinking were permitted inside the Mass Rapid Transit railway and control of visitor flow was no longer implemented in scenic spots and the tourism sector.

As of 31 December 2020, Taiwan got 799 confirmed Covid-19 cases, with seven deaths included.

II. Major relief measures launched by the government

In order to help those people whose livelihood was badly hit by the pandemic, Taiwan government allocated 60 billion dollars (NTD - New Taiwan Dollar) to implement relief measures, with the following major items benefiting the brand garment retail sector:

Supporting employees with:

  • Training allowance
  • Subsidies to compensate the difference in salary resulted from shorter work hours
  • Subsidies on schooling for unemployed workers’ children
  • Delay of workers’ payment for labour insurance, employment insurance and pension.  
  • Relief loans for workers and subsidies for interest of the loans                                                                                                                    

Supporting enterprises with:

  • Subsidies on staff salary and business operation
  • Loans for business operation
  • Loans for working capital or capital cost used for business revitalisation
  • Water and electricity fee remissions
  • Encouragement and guidance for retailers to adopt e-commerce services
  • Introduction of the “Triple Stimulus Voucher” to revitalise consumption

III. Impact of the pandemic on the sales workers for brand garment retailing business in Taiwan

Taiwan’s economic growth rates and market performance amid the pandemic:

There had been an obvious slide in the economic growth rates amid the pandemic, lowering from 3.69% in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2019 to 0.35% in Q2 of 2020.  But a rebound to 3.92% was recorded in Q3 of 2020.The sales in the retailing industry saw a rapid drop in February 2019 but then slowly went up until January 2020, which was followed by a pandemic-caused plunge in February 2020, and then rebounded to the pre-pandemic level. For e-commerce, the average monthly growth rate of e-shopping and mail order was 16.65% in the first nine months of 2020, compared with the corresponding period in 2019.  However, it is difficult to judge whether the growth is a long term structural change.

Impact of the pandemic on the sales workers for brand garment retailing business:

We explored the situation through interviewing the sales workers with questionnaires and face-to-face talks to know about the changes in their work hours, salary and job content.  We received 150 valid questionnaires.  The garment products sold by the interviewees involved 16 brands.  Detailed research method is outlined in the post-script note. 

Among the 16 brands concerned, only Nike and UNIQLO had more than 20 valid questionnaires returned by their sales workers, specifically 37 and 35 respectively.  Therefore the research results involving these two brands can be presented in data, as tables below.  Other brands with fewer than 20 valid questionnaires returned included Adidas, Reebok, Pull&Bear and le coq sportif, thus the research results of interviewees from these brands are only presented in written description but not data, so as to evade statistical deviation. 

Impact of the pandemic on work hours, salary and job content:

(1) Work hours

The table below shows whether the work hours were affected for respectively all interviewees in general and the two brands of garment which most interviewees worked for:

 

All interviewees in general

(150 interviewees validly interviewed)

Interviewees selling Nike garment

(37 interviewees validly interviewed)

Interviewees selling UNIQLO garment
(35
interviewees validly interviewed)

Work hours affected by the pandemic

96 interviewees(64%)

27 interviewees(73%)

25 interviewees(71%)

Work hours unaffected by the pandemic

54 interviewees(36%)

10 interviewees(27%)

10 interviewees(29%)

Statistics showing whether work hours being affected by the pandemic

The above data show that:

  • Most interviewees (60%-70%) said that their work hours were affected.  
  • The percentage of Nike and UNIQLO sales workers having their work hours affected by the pandemic is higher than the average percentage of all interviewees.  

(2) Main reasons for work hour changes

Main reasons for  work hour changes

Situation for the 96 interviewees among all interviewees saying their work hours being affected

Situation for the 27 interviewees working for Nike saying their work hours being affected

Situation for the 25 interviewees working for UNIQLO saying their work hours being affected

Work hours increased due to manpower cut and hence longer work hours for each work shift

27 interviewees(28%)

9 interviewees(33%)

6 interviewees(24%)

Work hours decreased due to unfavourable business performance

31 interviewees(32%)

9 interviewees(33%)

7 interviewees(28%)

Work hours decreased due to shortened business hours of the retail outlets

31 interviewees(32%)

8 interviewees(30%)

11 interviewees(44%)

Three main reasons for work hour changes

The above data show that:

  • Among all interviewees, the percentage for each reason leading to work hour changes is alike, approximately 30%.   
  • The percentage for each reason leading to work hour changes for Nike sales workers is similar to that for all interviewees in average.
  • For UNIQLO workers, the percentage for work hour decrease due to shortening business hours of the retail outlets amounted to 44%, much higher than that for all interviewees in average.

 (3) The monthly amount of work hours increased / decreased

The top three situations mostly experienced by the interviewees

All interviewees in general

 

Interviewees selling Nike garment

 

Interviewees selling UNIQLO garment
 

The mostly experienced situation

11-20 hours decreased

(22 interviewees, 47%)

1-10 hours decreased
(5 interviewees, 31%)

11-20 hours decreased

(8 interviewees, 50%)

The second mostly experienced situation

1-10 hours decreased

(14 interviewees, 30%)

11-20 hours increased

(4 interviewees, 25%)

21-30 hours decreased

(4 interviewees, 25%)

31-50 hours decreased

(5 interviewees, 31%)

The third mostly experienced situation experienced

1-10 hours increased

(11 interviewees, 23%)

11-20 hours decreased

(3 interviewees, 19%)

11-20 hours increased

(3 interviewees, 19%)

The above data show that:

  • The amount of work hours changed, no matter decreased or increased, for the UNIQLO interviewees appears longer than that for the average general of all interviewees.  No UNIQLO interviewees had their work hour reduced as few as 1-10 hours, but that those getting a big cut of work time from 31 to 50 hours is the UNIQLO workers’ second mostly experienced situation.  
  • The amount of work hours decreased for Nike sales workers is more than that of the average general but less than that of the UNIQLO ones.

(4) Salary

Statistics showing whether salary being affected by the pandemic

 

All interviewees in general

(150 interviewees validly interviewed)

Interviewees selling Nike garment

(37 interviewees validly interviewed)

Interviewees selling UNIQLO garment
(35
interviewees validly interviewed)

Salary affected by the pandemic

114 interviewees(76%)

28 interviewees(76%)

27 interviewees(77%)

Salary unaffected by the pandemic

36 interviewees(24%)

9 interviewees(24%)

8 interviewees(23%)

The above data show that:

  • Most sales workers (approximately 80%), no matter from all interviewees in general or from the two brands, said that their salary was affected by the pandemic.

(5) Main reasons for salary changes

There might be multiple reasons so the interviewees could choose more than one reason.  In conclusion, there were three main reasons:  

Main reasons for  salary changes

Situation for the 114 interviewees among all interviewees saying their salary being affected

Situation for the 28 interviewees working for Nike saying their salary being affected

Situation for the 27 interviewees working for UNIQLO saying their salary being affected

Lowered ratio of bonus to sales amount

70 interviewees(61%)

20 interviewees(71%)

13 interviewees(48%)

Shortened business hours of the retail outlets

28 interviewees(25%)

8 interviewees(28%)

6 interviewees(22%)

Bonus-based salary changed to fixed salary

27 interviewees(24%)

3 interviewees(10%)

10 interviewees(37%)

Three main reasons for salary changes

The above data show that:

  • Most workers received lower salary because of lowered ratio of bonus to sales amount.  The percentage of Nike workers experiencing such situation is higher than the average percentage of all interviewees, whereas that for UNIQLO workers lower than the average general but they experienced more of bonus-based salary changed to fixed salary as a major reason for salary decrease.

(6) The average monthly amount of salary decrease

The following table ranks the top three mostly experienced salary decrease amounts according to the percentage of workers experiencing them.

The average monthly amount of salary decrease

(NTD)

92 out of all interviewees mentioning their salary being affected  

22 out of Nike interviewees mentioning their salary being affected

24 out of UNIQLO interviewees mentioning their salary being affected

4000-5000

28 interviewees(31%)The highest percentage

8 interviewees(36%)

The highest percentage

6 interviewees(25%)
The 3nd highest percentage

2000-3000

23 interviewees(23%)The 2nd highest percentage

5 interviewees(23%)
The 2nd highest percentage

7 interviewees(29%)
The 2nd highest percentage

1000-2000

15 interviewees(16%)The 3nd highest percentage

---

8 interviewees(33%)

The highest percentage

5000-10000

---

4 interviewees(18%)
The 3nd highest percentage

---

 

The amount of average monthly salary decrease for those interviewees mentioning their salary being affected by the pandemic

The above data show that:

  • The highest and second highest percentage of salary decrease amount experienced by the Nike sales workers are similar to those of the average of all interviewees, but the third highest percentage of salary decrease amount for the Nike workers is much higher than that of the average general.  This may indicate that the salary decrease amount experienced by Nike workers was generally higher than that of the average general.

  • The highest, second and third highest percentage of salary decrease amounts experienced by the UNIQLO sales workers are just in reverse of those for the average general of all interviewees, which may imply that the UNIQLO workers generally experienced smaller salary decrease amount than that encountered by the average general.

(7) Changes in job content

  • Among the 150 answered questionnaires, approximately two-third (65%) regarded that their labour conditions had been affected by the pandemic, whereas one-third (35%) claimed no big changes.
  • The changes were mainly workload increase, and workers also had to take up other jobs apart from their own duties.  For instance, garment sales workers needed to help out tidying, cleaning or clothes ironing work; or those taking care of changing rooms had to pick up additional work like cashier, clothes folding or helping customers look for wanted products.  The pandemic had also brought additional disinfection work, or added tasks of e-sales and distribution of promotional leaflets in the street.    

(8) Other common or rare situations

  • Heavy blow to tourist outlets while insignificant impact on community outlets

Those outlets situated in tourist areas targeting tourist customers suffered heavy blow from the pandemic.  Their business performance was extremely poor in Q2, and only rebounded until after Q3.  On the other hand, those outlets located in local communities targeting nearby residents as their customers did not suffer much impact from the pandemic.  Examples of brands experiencing such situations were UNIQLO and Adidas.

  • Manpower cut during the pandemic but no replenishment of staff later upon business performance recovered

Examples are UNIQLO and Pull&Bear

  • Bonus for employees shrunk but not returned to the corresponding levels later upon business performance recovered

Examples are Reebok, Adidas and Pull&Bear

  • A rare case of growth amid adversity: le coq sportif

le coq sportif is a brand for golf wear and footwear.  Under the pandemic, the Taiwan’s businesspeople were compelled to stay in Taiwan and the golf course became the popular recreation spot for enterprise staff in view of its openness and spaciousness with low risks of pandemic infection.  Thus le coq sportif’s golf wear and footwear sales experienced growth against adversity.  There was staff mentioned that different outlets saw different sales growth rates ranging from 10% to 20%, compared with the same period of the previous year, and the ratio of bonus to sales amount for staff also went up accordingly.   

 

A brief summary

  • The Covid-19 pandemic started with information of cases spread out in December 2019, and the first confirmed case in Taiwan emerged in January 2020.  Since then, there had been a slow rise of cases, but after mid-April in the year, there were no more local cases until the end of December when a new local case emerged again, but that showed no signs for a large-scale return of the pandemic.  Taiwan’s economic growth rate went down from 3.69% in Q4 of 2019 to 0.35% in Q2 of 2020, but then rebounded to 3.92% in Q3 after the pandemic had been alleviated.
  • The surveys show that the labour conditions of Taiwan’s brand garment sales workers had been tremendously affected by the pandemic, including that most workers (approximately 60%-70%) interviewed got their work hours increased or decreased.  The main reasons for work hour changes were unfavourable business performance, shortening of business hours of the retail outlets and manpower cut contributing to longer hours for each work shift.  
  • The pandemic had caused the salary of 80% of the interviewees to be lowered, due to three main reasons, namely lowered ratio of bonus to sales amount, shortened business hours of the retail outlets and bonus-based salary changed to fixed salary.  There was 30%, the largest portion, of the interviewees got their salary decrease amount ranged between NTD4,000-5,000 per month.    
  • Under the pandemic, most sales workers had to bear increased workload and took up jobs other than their own duties.  Examples were sales persons doing additional jobs of cleaning, clothes ironing, e-sales and distributing promotional leaflets in the street.   
  • Manpower cut and reduction of bonus were commonly seen under the pandemic.  However, after alleviation of the pandemic and rebound of sales, the manpower and bonus did not return to the corresponding levels.
  • There was a case of growth amid adversity brought by the pandemic.  The le coq sportif golf wear and footwear experienced sales increase as the pandemic drove lots of people to go to golf courses for fun.     

(End)

_______

Research methodology
Information was collected in three ways: online questionnaires for sales workers to fill in on their own; questionnaires taken by researchers to the brand garment sections inside department stores for sales workers to fill in, together with face-to-face interviews with them; and questionnaires distributed to workers through agencies.  The questionnaires were collected during the period of 21 October and 22 November of 2020.

There were 16 brands of garment products involved which were mainly clothes and footwear.  More of the interviewees came from Nike, UNIQLO, Adidas, H&M, New Balance, Gap, Reebok, Pull&Bear and Zara.  The remaining brands, namely GQ, le coq sportif, Coleman, Columbia, DC, Roxy and The North Face, involved very few sales workers being interviewed, only one to three interviewees for each brand.