True Fitness' unpaid Thai staff turn to court

Singapore-based fitness chain closed ops last week; spokesman says staff will be paid

At least five employees of True Fitness in Thailand have filed complaints with the kingdom's labour court over unpaid wages after the chain's sudden closure last week.

According to some of the employees, the amount owed in salaries and commissions is estimated to total several million baht.

The Singapore-based fitness chain abruptly shut its Thai and Malaysian operations last week, citing challenging business circumstances and the unwillingness of landlords to allow other operators to take over its business.

But it appears to have left in its trail dozens of unpaid employees, some of whom are now in increasingly desperate circumstances.

"Some of the lower-level staff, like those working at the reception, cannot get into their (rental) apartments because they can't pay their landlords," Mr Nonvaris Sappasiriyohin, one of its senior employees, told The Straits Times. "Right now, they are very confused, and don't know what to do."

Mr Nonvaris said he has not been paid since April.

"They did not tell us anything," another senior employee, who has worked with the company for over a decade, said just before filing her complaint at Bangkok's Central Labour Court yesterday.

True opened its first outlet in Thailand in 2006. Its two gyms - in Bangkok's Exchange Tower and in Esplanade Ngamwongwan-Khae Rai, just outside the capital - have some 7,000 members, she said.

Contacted in Singapore, a True Group spokesman told The Straits Times that it has made arrangements to cover all outstanding salaries "and hope this can be paid out this week or early next week".

"Business in Thailand over the past two years has proved to be challenging," said the spokesman, citing social disturbances caused by flooding, terror attacks and military interventions. "The local consumer market is still struggling."

True Group's businesses in Singapore, Taiwan and China were subsidising the losses in Thailand, she said. "Before we could arrange for the business to be restructured and funded, we were shut down by the landlords, leaving us with little time to make the necessary arrangements to keep the business going. With our offices shut, we have not been able to make any payments to anyone."

She stressed: "All will be paid in full once we can get our office open to make the payments this week."

As for compensation for the sudden termination of employment, she said: "We are looking into what we can do but we have also suffered due to the abrupt closure."

True Group, set up in Singapore 13 years ago by chief executive Patrick Wee, touts itself as one of Asia's largest fitness and wellness groups. It sealed a partnership agreement with China-based Tongfang Kontafarma Holdings last month, and maintains that the closures in Thailand and Malaysia will not affect its expansion plans in Singapore, China and Taiwan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Gym's unpaid Thai staff turn to court'. Print Edition | Subscribe