Wal-Mart bows to union pressure over wellbeing

Wal-Mart has bowed to mounting criticism over the way it treats its staff by changing healthcare programmes for its part-time workers.

From next month, the US retail giant will halve the length of time employees have to serve before becoming eligible for health insurance to one year. Part-time workers will also be able to enrol their children in health programmes and the cost of workers’ prescription drugs will also be cut.

Wal-Mart has been strongly criticised by unions and the media for providing what they describe as inadequate health benefits. The concessions come as the world’s largest retailer held its second annual media conference in an attempt to improve the negative image it has in the US and beyond.

The company has also announced the promotion of Susan Chambers, the executive whose healthcare proposals last year prompted widespread criticism and brought added scrutiny to the company’s employee benefits plan.

In her new position as executive vice-president of Wal-Mart’s people division, she will be responsible for HR and the office of diversity.

Chambers’ controversial leaked memo recommended physical exercise, such as “some cart [trolley] gathering”, as a way to discourage unhealthy and overweight people from working at the company.

Wal-Mart has faced continued criticism over the way it treats its staff. In January, it was ordered to pay $172.3m (98m) to staff it prevented from taking meal breaks.

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