A trendsetter in every way

Japanese label Uniqlo is making waves with its progressive wage practices

On 18 January 2023, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Defence launched the Progressive Wage Mark (PW Mark) at Uniqlo Singapore’s (UQSG) flagship store at Orchard Central mall. The launch was also attended by Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Director of U SME and Women & Family Unit at National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), Ms Tan Hwee Bin, Honorary Treasurer, Mr Sim Gim Guan, Executive Director of Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) and Mr Albert Tsui, Executive Director, SBF.

The PW Mark is an accreditation scheme that aims to recognise eligible firms that pay progressive wages to lower-wage workers. It also distinguishes companies that provide these workers clearer career pathways and opportunities for growth.

BiZQ talks with Ms Juliana Tan, Head of Human Resource, Talent Acquisition and Talent Development about UQSG’s PW Mark journey. She says it was a natural progression as UQSG’s brand values include embracing innovation and challenge while respecting and supporting individuals to foster both corporate and personal growth. Above all, there is the company’s commitment to ethical standards and correctness.

Gaining a head-start

(From left) Mr Albert Tsui, Executive Director, SBF, Mr Kuroda Yusuke, Senior Operations Director, Uniqlo Singapore, Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Defence, Ms Yeo Wan Ling, Director of U SME and U Women and Family, NTUC, Ms Tan Hwee Bin, Honorary Treasurer, SNEF, Ms Juliana Tan, Head of Human Resource, Talent Acquisition and Talent Development, Uniqlo Singapore and Mr Sim Gim Guan, Executive Director, SNEF.

UQSG made the news when it raised the salaries of its lower-wage workers by nearly a quarter back in June 2022. This was prior to the Retail Progressive Wage Model (PWM) taking effect in September that year. Ms Tan reveals that when the government announced the implementation of PWM in the retail industry, UQSG had already conducted a salary review as of 1 June 2022.

She explains, “We increased the salary of all part-time and full-time store employees from Sales Associate to Store Manager level by an average of about 24% to recognise the dedication of our team members as they are the main driving force of the business. We also wanted to ensure their pay stays competitive, especially with the rising cost of living.”

As a result, the base pay of UQSG’s lower-wage workers rose to $2,200 from $1,700 across 13 months. Aside from these salary adjustments, the management enhanced work-life balance by implementing a 40-hour week as opposed to the industry standard of 44 hours.

In explaining what motivated Uniqlo to take up the PW Mark accreditation, Ms Tan says that it was driven by UQSG’s commitment to its staff as well as the company’s goal to be one of the best places to work.

She says, “We wanted to recognise the effort and hard work of our team members. They work shift hours, weekends and public holidays. Hence their time needs to be fairly compensated. We are also keen to attract new entrants to the retail industry and support local university graduates and have implemented a training and development programme for employees to support their growth and career development.”

UQSG’s salary system is now modelled similarly to the government sector as the new set of grading and grids enables staff to enjoy salary adjustments within the same grade thus closing gaps for those ineligible to be promoted to the next grade.

Before implementing this system, UQSG and its Global headquarters had worked together to benchmark against salaries paid in the retail and food industries, as well as compiled data from Mercer and Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) for reference.

Host of incentives to uplift livelihoods and aspirations

UQSG also introduced additional ad hoc sales incentives to reward performance when its stores achieved their sales targets. It has also looked into improving the working conditions and environment for workers by ensuring staff rooms are spacious and comfortable for rest and meal breaks.

To ensure continued career progression for its staff, UQSG implemented a comprehensive staff training and development programme comprising rigorous on-the-job training alongside classroom training conducted by respective leaders. UQSG is also reviewing the possibilities of increasing the grades so that staff can be motivated to continually improve their skills and knowledge. In these situations, if an employee is unable to be promoted to the next position, a good performance can still help them achieve a grade or grid adjustment every six months.

The performance of each staff (including part-timers) is assessed every three months using a checklist that store leaders and staff refer to in their training. Regular feedback is also given to the staff based on the checklist so that employees are well informed of their progress.

Store leaders such as Area Managers/Store Managers/Training Managers and Human Resource personnel visit the stores to engage and train employees. This is concurrent with efforts by the company to bring in external vendors to provide in-house training/workshop/courses in the next quarter of the year for the employees.

Challenges and benefits of the PWM

On the challenges faced when implementing the PW Model, Ms Tan admits that wage increases can lead to increased manpower costs which is already a challenge for the retail industry. However, she says that the PW Mark accreditation was successful in helping them attract full-time and part-time staff especially among Singaporeans.

With a systematic training programme in place for all staff, including the Uniqlo Management Candidate (UMC) Program for tertiary graduates, Store Managers are able to partner staff to guide their development via the Partnership Promotion System (PPS).

Ms Tan ends by saying, “The culture in Uniqlo is also very inclusive and there are very clear career development milestones and plans. We generally encourage our talents to aim for promotion bi-annually across the different grades as each tier will enable staff to upskill and grow accordingly to ensure constant progression.”

With a retail presence in more than 20 countries, Uniqlo aims to enrich people’s lives through the power of clothing with sustainable materials and a talented workforce.

For more enquiries on the PW Mark, visit GoBusiness or Singapore Business Federation or write to us at [email protected].

The PW Mark reflects your commitment to uplift your employees by supporting their wage and career progression through skills upgrading and improving productivity. Ready to cement your status as an employer of choice? You can apply for the PW Mark easily in under five minutes on the GoBusiness Dashboard. Check out this GoBusiness blog post on how your business can support Singapore’s progressive wage journey and the three simple steps to apply for the accreditation.