August 22, 2012 00:00 By THAMMARAT KITCHALONG
A consumer protection foundation yesterday encouraged customers of once-popular California WOW to register complaints with it so that lawsuits could be filed against the firm for the return of membership fees.
Thirty California WOW fitness centres registered their complaints with the Foundation for Consumers yesterday, seeking help for the refund of the fees.
Saowanee Chamchaliew, a staff member of the foundation, said it would receive complaints until the end of this month before making joint legal efforts against California WOW. She said customers should call 02-248-3737 to file their complaints.
The foundation would gather the complaints and inform the Office of the Consumers Protection Board, asking it to sue the firm.
California WOW started its fitness centre business in Bangkok to much fanfare 12 years ago. The firm reportedly suffered from a liquidity crunch early this year.
Earlier, Bangkok Bank filed a lawsuit with the Bankruptcy Court against California WOW, seeking a court order to force the firm to repay its loan of Bt71.90 million plus Bt3.97 million in interest.
California WOW has shut down seven of its eight fitness centres, leaving only the centre at Siam Paragon open, prompting many customers to complain as they could not travel to the heart of the capital to use the service.
Saowanee said the Office of the Consumers Protection Board had told her that California WOW was instructed by a court to resume services at all branches and it was not allowed to change its contracts with customers.
A 48-year-old housewife, who identified herself as Sa, said she applied to be a member of the Ratchayothin branch after a salesperson called her and encouraged her to exercise. She ended up paying more than Bt150,000 during her time with the centre.
She paid an annual membership fee of Bt17,599, and Bt55,242 for hiring trainers plus Bt3,200 a year for renting a locker. She also paid Bt888 a year as a membership-keeping fee. She paid another Bt40,000 to join a weight-reduction course.
A 63-year-old woman, calling herself Tik, said she applied as a member at the Pinklao branch just two days before it closed. She lost over Bt28,000.
On Monday, 20 laid-off trainers of California WOW represented nearly 1,000 employees of eight branches of the fitness firm to file a complaint with the Labour Protection and Welfare Department.
The trainers led by Chayungkorn Taptimthong, 36, submitted their complaint to Manote Saengkaew, director of the labour protection and problem solving division.
Chayungkorn told reporters that California WOW allegedly owed salaries to nearly 1,000 employees of all eight branches. He said the employees were forced to resign without receiving severance pay and they were earlier forced to withdraw their contribution money from the provident fund so the company would not have to pay its contributions to the fund.
Chayunkorn said the employees were not sure whether the firm had paid the money deducted from the workers’ salaries to the Social Security Fund or not.
Arthit Isamo, director-general of the labour protection department, said his department had summoned executives of California WOW to testify twice – but no executives turned up so the department would consider the case based on information from the workers only.
Arthit said his department would summon the employer to testify again and wrap up the investigation in about 60 days.