Wal-Mart faces protests by employees in China over what they say is a drastic change in work schedules, as the company overhauls its struggling business amid an economic slowdown and competition from e-commerce.
Weakening demand for traditional retailers has added to trouble for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has had slow and uneven growth since its first China outlet opened in 1996. It tried to expand into online retailing but sold its operation last month to China’s No. 2 e-commerce operator.
Its labor tensions reflect rising expectations among workers to share in China’s prosperity and a shift by the ruling Communist Party away from treating them only as a source of labor toward trying to create a consumer society.
Employees said Wal-Mart wants them to work 11-hour shifts on weekends and as little as four hours on weekdays under a system it started to roll out in June. Some said that might result in lower pay and interfere with their ability to work second jobs.
Last week, Staff members protested on Friday and Saturday outside Wal-Mart stores in the cities of Nanchang and Shenzhen in southern China, Chengdu in the west and Harbin in the northeast, according to employees and two labor rights groups.
More than half the Nanchang store’s workforce of 200 employees took part, according to an employee. Some carried banners that said, “Wal-Mart workers stand up and oppose fraud.”
In a written response to questions, Wal-Mart said it is “planning a series of initiatives to enhance and upgrade Walmart China’s overall talent management system.”
The company didn’t answer questions about how scheduling and working conditions would change or how the protests affected its operations.
“We have communicated with Walmart China associates and a majority of associates support the new system,” the statement said, using the company’s term for its employees. “For those associates who need additional information, we are communicating with them on a consistent basis.”
Wal-Mart faced similar criticism in the United States over its “just in time” scheduling system, which employees said changed work hours at short notice and reduced pay for some. The company said in February its US stores would switch to allowing employees the option of working fixed hours or putting together schedules in two-week blocks.