Swatch Group Korea disappoints workers

This is the sixth in a series highlighting operations of foreign luxury brands in Korea. ― ED.
Swatch Group Korea representative director Christophe Savioz

By Park Jae-hyuk

The Swatch Group has attracted a wide range of consumers in Korea, offering various watch brands addressing all segments of the market ― from luxury range Breguet, Blancpain and Omega to mid- and basic-range Tissot, Mido and Swatch.

As an employer, however, the Korean branch of the world’s largest watchmaker appears not to be so popular here.

According to corporate assessment platform Job Planet, Friday, more than 60 percent of former and incumbent employees of Swatch Group Korea did not recommend working for the company, rating it a 2.5 out of 5 in satisfaction level.

“The company enjoys a high level of brand equity, but it lacks a reasonable business management system,” a Swatch Group Korea worker commented.

A former employee also said, “Managers are reluctant to share important information and they unilaterally order tasks without caring much about teamwork.”

The group by no means is silent on its commitment to its staff. On its official website, it highlights the welfare of its employees and the conservation of the natural environment as its two most important corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles.

“The Swatch Group is aware that its performance depends heavily on the quality and commitment of its employees,” it said. “It needs people who are motivated and effective, and it knows that, in return, it must offer them a social package that makes it a competitive and attractive employer, capable of recruiting and retaining the best personnel worldwide.”

The social policy may have been well abided by the Switzerland headquarters, but it seems not to work in its Korean branch.

The local affiliate, which is led by representative director Christophe Savioz, was accused in 2014 of paying its employees less than two-thirds of the average wage paid by Korean firms hiring more than 300 people.

The company at that time paid a 34.6 million won ($30,000) annual salary on average.

“I don’t know why the Korean branch, which has enjoyed rising sales and profits for three consecutive years, froze its wages again,” another Swatch employee said. “Although the company has billions of won in operating profit every year, it freezes wages and does not hire necessary workers on the excuse of a limited budget.”

Swatch Group Korea paid 17 billion won in dividends to international shareholders in 2015, when it posted a 19.3 billion won operating profit. The watchmaker’s Korean branch has also been criticized as it hardly makes donations here.

“Imported luxury brands including Swatch Group Korea, Bulgari Korea, Burberry Korea, Prada Korea and Ferragamo Korea distributed a total of 111.7 billion won to their head offices in 2015,” Rep. Hong Il-pyo of the minor opposition Bareun Party said in a National Assembly audit last year. “Foreign firms have been negligent in CSR activities and reinvestments here even though they rake in huge profits.”

The Korea Times asked Swatch Group Korea about its CSR activities and salaries, but has yet to receive a full answer. A company spokeswoman said the response should be confirmed by finance and personnel departments, as well as the global headquarters.

Founded in 1983 by Nicolas Hayek in Switzerland, The Swatch Group offers 18 watch brands in various price categories, including Omega, Calvin Klein and Swatch.

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