Working at Uniqlo ‘gave us PTSD’
Seven shirts folded per minute, "shouting rooms" and 18-hour days.
Former Australian Uniqlo employees have spoken out about the "weird, awful, abusive" culture at the Japanese fast-fashion giant, where they claim bullying is rife and everyone leaves with "some form of PTSD".
Earlier this month, former HR manager Melanie Bell sued the retailer, alleging in an explosive $1 million claim that she had been bullied and discriminated against due to her "caucasian heritage".
According to three former colleagues, Ms Bell's experience was not unique.
Each worked in different locations and different roles - a sales assistant, a visual merchandiser and an assistant store manager - but all shared similar stories of a deeply toxic work environment.
"It was like a cesspool of all bad Japanese culture squished into one place," said the sales assistant, who worked at the MidCity store in the Sydney CBD for three years.
The visual merchandiser, who worked at a Queensland store for 18 months, said it "felt like I'd been in an abusive relationship". "I was having panic attacks and coming home crying every afternoon," the 35-year-old said.
The former assistant store manager, who was part of the company's Uniqlo Management Candidate grad program for three years and worked in three different Sydney stores, said it was "such an abusive culture".
"Everyone has some form of PTSD," the 27-year-old said. "You can't walk in the store, you freak out when you walk in."
Here's how the three women described working at Uniqlo:
"It was a pretty awful culture, probably one of the least favourite places I've ever worked. The way they treated employees was awful.
"They treated us like robots.
"There's a reason the clothes are so cheap, it's because they undercut things in store.
"For example, a hanging rail fell on me because it was broken and absolutely no one gave a s**t. People would get injured in the back room because there were so many boxes and no one gave a crap.
"The boxes would get stacked really, really high, so they would inevitably fall on people.
"They have like a managers' room, there was a lot of shouting in that room. They would kind of go off at the more lower-level managers, I don't really know why.
"There were a lot of issues with upper management bullying management.
"I had a supervisor who was part-time, she needed to change her available days (due to university). They kept declining it for so long to push her out of that role. She had to take on a casual position because it was already so late that if she didn't she would have to quit uni.
"They have a policy where you can buy discounted clothing for yourself or family as a gift. They would get the loss prevention people to follow staff members outside the store around the block after they made a purchase to check if they were giving it to people.
"They give a warning, 'You gave this item to this person.'
"It's pretty bizarre. It's one of the tactics they use if they didn't like you. If they really like the person they wouldn't follow them out of the store but if they were already looking to fire them …
"There was one period where they only hired white people for the UMC program because they were like, 'We don't have any white managers.'
"Those people got really poorly treated, bullied really badly."
ASSISTANT STORE MANAGER
"I wanted to join the UMC program because we were supposed to go to Japan and work there for experience, it was written into our contracts.
"They called us a couple of weeks before starting to tell us we were not going to Japan, there was never any mediation.
"I was there for the Sydney store opening and basically the Japanese management that came over were not aware of our working rules in Australia, they largely ignored HR.
"We were all on probation and at the start of the shift one day they decided they needed to cut staff because we weren't making enough money.
"They grabbed (a group of) people and told them they were fired, but that they expected them to finish their shift. There was no actual performance management, they were let go on a whim.
"A lot of them went home crying.
"It's a really nasty culture, not just the Japanese managers. To be honest all retail is like this but Uniqlo is exceptionally bad.
"It's the Japanese work culture, you're made to feel bad if you go home on time. I was doing anything from 60- to 80-hour weeks. I would start at 7am and leave at 8pm.
"One day I stayed until 1am. The registers weren't reconciling and I was expected to stay until they reconciled. My dad had to come to the store. He said, 'You're leaving, now.'
"One of the managers, she was basically bats**t crazy, she would just scream at people non-stop for no reason. People would cry, they were terrified of her.
"You can work at Coles or another retailer and stand behind a counter, it's really easy. At Uniqlo everything is timed - this task should take you this amount of time.
"They have these giant books which break down the SOP (standard operating procedure) for literally everything, from how to use the till to how to fold clothes.
"You're supposed to fold seven shirts a minute."
"I worked there for about one-and-a-half years until I had to leave due to bullying.
"When we were setting up our store I witnessed a lot of the management yelling at all of the retail staff, I saw a lot of people crying. I didn't experience any of that myself at first.
"We had a manager come up from Sydney, that's when all the bullying started. She singled us out, rolling her eyes at us, always having confrontations, the way she spoke to us was really horrible.
"It kind of felt like we were in high school and you were constantly having to deal with the school bitch, she hated you and just wanted to make your life hard.
"When we would have conference calls (and she was in Brisbane), while I was speaking she would roll her eyes in front of the rest of the team. I'm good friends with one of the VMs in Brisbane so she would tell me what she was doing.
"People would go to HR (about bullying) and no one would do anything.
"I had numerous meetings the HR about my situation and I was told to take my bully out for coffee, that it was a personality clash.
"My assistant ended up leaving so I had to look after an entire store of 180 mannequins by myself. I developed an umbilical hernia from the massive workload I had.
"I couldn't work for six months (after I quit). I had to go see a psychologist, I haven't worked in visual marketing since. Financially it's ruined us, we went through $60,000 in savings while I was off work.
"That was our house deposit."
"The wellbeing of our staff, whether in a store environment or at our Australian head office, remains paramount for Uniqlo.
"If an issue is raised, we try to address it as soon as possible. An example of this is the stacking of boxes issue in store which, once we were alerted to it, was addressed immediately.
"We have an unwavering commitment to the health and safety of our employees and we will not tolerate workplace bullying of any kind or behaviour which might impact the welfare of our employees.
"We are always working to improve our workplace culture and employee satisfaction."