Alexander Group suspended operations without notice, affecting the rights and interests of thousands of members and the livelihood of thousands of employees. As the leading group in the nation's fitness industry, its closure was not only the end for an enterprise, but a symbolic loss for the whole industry.
This is only the first rumblings of a storm to come and the authorities should forcefully intervene and establish a standard operating procedure for future reference. This will avert social commotion and future problems.
While working out in the branch on Dunhua South Road on Dec. 8, I saw a notice at the counter saying the gym was to be closed for cleaning and maintenance the following Monday. Two days later it was announced that all branches of Alexander Health Clubs would be closed. This shows that the action had been planned and kept secret.
Business at the Alexander Health Clubs' 20 plus branches was brisk and thousands of long-term members had paid anywhere from tens of thousands of NT dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars for fitness classes and beauty treatments, with membership dues probably totaling NT$100 million (US$3.1 million). Every branch offered set classes and the number of participants for each class could reach as high as 100 depending on the size of the classroom. Some classes were so popular students crammed the classrooms to the point of bursting.
Given the brisk businesses, the sudden closure of the clubs cannot have been the result of uneven income from membership fees, but rather must have been because of poor investment in the company's development, including a domino effect from poor management of their business in China. The company gave no prior warning of financial problems before closing, but financial problems don't appear overnight.
Exercise yields numerous benefits for one's physical and mental health. As it is relatively hard to find natural environments in urban areas, health and fitness centers provide opportunities to work out.
The popularity of gyms has a bigger social meaning: It has broken traditional prejudice that women are afraid of physical exercise, that non-athletes don't exercise and that girls don't like sports.
This brand-new concept of a healthy lifestyle has not only changed the traditional impression that sports belong only in the sports arena, but has also made exercise a popular part of modern life. Candy Tang (唐雅君), the chairwoman of the Alexander Group, started off as a teacher of rhythmic dancing and was able to transform rhythmic dancing into a form of exercise for both men and women.
She also introduced Taiwan to a concept of fitness that had been popular overseas for years, making a great contribution to the development of a modern healthy lifestyle.
As a long-term member of Alexander, the sudden suspension of operations meant not only that I lost a membership worth tens of thousands of dollars, it also feels as though there is no place for me to work out anymore.
Upon hearing the news, I called a beautician who had worked for the company a long time and heard her crying. I thought of the thousands of employees who no longer had an income and their families, and of senior employees who had lost their retirement money.
For one to lose his or her membership fee is an individual matter, but when it happens to hundreds of thousands of people it becomes a public legal matter. Also, the loss of the rights and interests of thousands of employees will create social problems.
This is an opportunity for political leaders and the government to show their capability and efficiency. All investigative units should immediately launch a large-scale investigation, freeze company assets and prevent company officials from leaving the country.
If the authorities handle the issue properly, it can be used as an important reference for future management of fitness enterprises and help establish an important administrative mechanism to ensure labor rights.
We cannot allow the Alexander Group to settle the issue with the explanations given at a single press conference, since this incident will affect the development of the nation's fitness industry as well as the rights and interests of members and employees.
Karleen Chiu is an assistant professor of social welfare at Chinese Culture University.
Translated by Ted Yang
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