Fast Retailing to debut four-day workweeks for Uniqlo staff

Kyodo, Staff Report

Fast Retailing Co. will introduce a new system in October to allow employees at its Uniqlo casual clothing stores to take three days off a week, as it aims to promote diverse work styles, company sources said Thursday.

The four-day workweek initiative is designed for workers to spend time on child-rearing and nursing care, and for the clothing giant to keep qualified employees on its payroll.

Facing severe labor shortages, other companies in the retail, restaurant and service industries could follow suit, industry observers said.

The program will be applicable to about 10,000 “regional” employees, who are hired locally and not subject to transfers, at its Uniqlo outlets. These employees can choose to take three days off each week.

Employees choosing to work four days a week will work 10 hours per day so they can earn the same level of wages they earn for working eight hours per day for five days a week, the sources said.

They will also be asked to work on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays, when stores are busy. They can switch back to the existing five-day workweek system every six months.

With the latest initiative, Fast Retailing hopes to secure enough employees and reduce its high turnover rate, as it is seeking to increase the number of full-time locally hired employees from the current 10,000 to 16,000.

The firm will also consider introducing the new system for full-time workers at its headquarters as well as at its cheaper GU stores, the sources said.

Once criticized for its harsh working conditions, Fast Retailing has been taking a series of steps toward bringing overtime hours to zero and promoting the employment status of part-timers to full time.

Major firms introduced four-day workweeks in the summer of 2011 to address power shortages due to halted nuclear power plants following the earthquake and tsunami disaster, and reactor meltdowns, in the Tohoku region in March that year, but the system did not become permanent, according to Nikkei business daily.

Only a handful of companies have introduced such a system on a permanent basis, including Alpen Co., a sports gear retailer headquartered in Nagoya.