Notes & Essays

Why Is Anyone Surprised at the Working Conditions at The Landmark?

It's long been a reality.
IMAGE Jennifer Marañon's Facebook page
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recent Facebook post by an applicant that showed the working conditions inside The Landmark Department store brought back a wave of memories about my own stint there. I was not surprised that it finally came out, it was like a dirty secret that I share with the employees who are working there today. It was something I experienced firsthand decades ago. It is sad to note that nothing has changed.


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Back in 1993, I was a fresh graduate still unsure of my skills, much less what kind of job I really wanted. An aunt, concerned that I would be bumming around, told me that she knew someone at the HR of an imported clothing brand, and encouraged me to apply. What made it so attractive to me was that I got free branded jeans (the kind I could not afford with my student allowance) and discounts on the bags and shoes that I drooled on at the store’s display windows. I was hired about a week later, and it was my introductionmy baptism of fire, if you willto the real world.

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My orientation started out innocuously at a branch at another mall. I spent about two weeks there learning processes like inventory and using a charge plate for card purchases. Lunch breaks would find me heading to a fast food restaurant or sitting down at one of the nearby public benches to rest. Mall hours went by quickly, and since it was a slightly expensive brand, the clientele was easy to manage. It wasn’t a cushy job, by any means, but it meant I didn’t have to ask my mom for money and I now had something to put on my resume when it came to the space about Work Experience.

Fast forward when I started working at the station I was really assigned tothe boutique’s floor space at The Landmark. I noticed so many differences right away. At my mall shifts, I could pass by the same entrance customers use, albeit much earlier, upon presentation of my company ID. The department store has a different employee entrance, where you have to go down a long, dark stairway that seemed like it brought me to the center of the earth. It was hot and often crammed with fellow store staff rushing to get to their stations on time. That Dante Alighieri quote, “abandon hope all ye who enter here” came to mind a couple of times, when I wasn’t rushing to my punch in.

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That Dante Alighieri quote, “abandon hope all ye who enter here” came to mind twice or thrice ruefully, when I wasn’t rushing to my punch in.

On my way to the selling floor, I would pass by some of the administrative offices, and get the idea that their workplace wasn’t all that glamorous either, they looked pretty much like the rest of the building’s innards did.

Let me go to the bathrooms. I have had more pleasurable experiences at gasoline station restrooms than at my former place of work. The restroom was dimly lit, it perpetually smelled of either strong bleach or urine, with a whiff of mildew. Tiles were cracked and there were holes on the ceiling, which makes one uncomfortable when in a compromising position. I do not recall if there was ventilation, but with its location at the bottom of that long stairway, I doubt it. I tried my best to hold it in, and go after work was done, at another mall’s restroom.

Let us proceed to the selling floor. In contrast, it is bright, cheery, and attractive. It was a busy place, with piped in music, and customers going about their business. I wrote up sales and counted inventory, and if there were no customers, we had to fold and refold clothes. We were instructed to look busy at my orientation. It was a no-no to sit or even lean on walls. I got reprimanded for doing that by my store manager. We were practically on our feet the whole day. That was the part I really liked, though, because I got to interact with customers. Someone, a foreigner, once even tried to give me a tip.

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I have had more pleasurable experiences at gasoline station restrooms than at my former place of work.

Woe to you, though, if you get a special request to pull out stock. You had to get off the selling area, remove your shoes, get frisked down to your legs. The stockroom was a communal area where items were kept in metal cages, some ways from the selling floor. Like the rest of the building’s employee spaces, it was dark and hot. A stockman is assigned to help you get what you need, and then you have to wend your way back to your station, hoping that your customer has not left.

Lunchtime did not fill me with anticipation, because it meant sitting at a noisy canteen, where you communed with baby cockroaches crawling along the floors and on the tables. Everywhere inside the staff area felt dark, damp, and dirty. Whenever I think of my time there, the color I associate with it is dishwater gray.

It took me two months to decide I’ve had enough. Had I been assigned to the mall where I had my training, I would have lasted longer in the retail industry, but I really found the working conditions at that department store deplorable—this, coming from a Batang Recto, mind you; one who is used to the shabbiness of the U-Belt. I paid for and kept my designer jeans, mementos of my time as a sales person.

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Through the years, I have been back to The Landmark so many times. My last time was actually a few days ago. Whenever I am there, I talk to the sales people and cashiers and tell them about my experience, then ask them if it is still the same. They say yes, making me think that the management has never prioritized working conditions. With the viral post, I hope things change for the better.

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What I would like to ask from people who get to read this, is to please, please, please be kind to sales staff, waiters, or anyone in the service industry. Not only does it show that you have breeding and manners, but it also makes their long, tiring work day much lighter. A smile from a customer and a thank you can really brighten someone’s day, and you will get even better customer service the next time you drop by.

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Maan D'asis Pamaran
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