Damning verdict on industrial-scale abuse at Sports Di...

Damning verdict on industrial-scale abuse at Sports Direct must herald end of zero hours

22 July 2016

The denigration of workers, wage payment systems of dubious legality, a disregard for health and safety law and employment agencies of questionable probity are among the catalogue of abuses uncovered at Sports Direct’s vast Shirebrook warehouse a damning new report confirms today (Friday 22 July).

The report, published by the influential House of Common’s Business Select Committee, follows months of campaigning by Unite the union and others to shine a spotlight on the endemic bad practices at the retail warehouse.

Unite termed the mistreatment as 'pay packet robbery on an industrial scale’ pointing to a 'culture of fear’ at the warehouse with workers scared to speak out against wage abuses, or report the frequent calls to the emergency service to deal with unwell workers. One woman worker, terrified of losing her job, gave birth in the toilets because she was too afraid to take time off.

Reacting to the report, Unite said that this was `absolutely not the last word, this can only be the beginning’, in the fight against the mistreatment of working people sadly all too common in the UK today.  

The union linked much of the blame for worker abuse to the rapid growth in insecure agency labour in the modern workplace.  It called again for Sports Direct to prove that it was serious about improving working conditions by replacing the temporary contracts for workers with more secure employment.

While the committee urged the owner Mike Ashely to demonstrate that we was improving the management of the business it recognised that Mr Ashley is now taking steps to work with Unite to address its concerns for the workforce.

However, the committee reserved particular scorn for the agency employed by Sports Direct to supply workers. Unite had revealed that the Transline agency was responsible for the introduction of the pre-paid cards whereby hundreds of workers had to pay a £10 administrative charge for a card to access their wages.

In a damning passage in the report, the cross-party committee said that the evidence given by the Transline agency `cast doubt on (their) probity’… suggesting that the agency had `deliberately misled the committee …. which could be considered a contempt of parliament’, warning the agency that it has two weeks to explain their evidence or face further action. 

Steve Turner, Unite’s assistant general secretary, said: “This has been a long and difficult journey but finally we are getting closer to justice and decent treatment for the Sports Direct workers.

“The scale of the abuse we found was shocking, even to this union. Ordinary decent people were being ripped off left, right and centre for hundreds of pounds. This was pay packet robbery on an industrial scale.  On top of that a culture for fear oppressed these workers into silence – one word out of line would have seen them lose their jobs for sure.

“The committee and those we have worked with in the media to expose what has been going on at Shirebrook are to be congratulated for this investigation.  Unite is pleased that we are now in the early stages of dialogue with Mr Ashley about how the serious problems at Shirebrook can be put right.  

“But the way to put things right at Shirebrook is simple – put the workers on fixed hour, permanent contracts.  Give them some security and the dignity they deserve.

“However, Shirebrook is not  an isolated incident. The sad truth of the matter is that where people can be hired and fired at whim, bad bosses are never far away.  If the prime ninister is serious about tackling corporate abuse, then she should start in our workplaces by restoring security, decency and fairness to working life

“The new powers coming to the Gangmasters Licensing Authority later this year cannot come too soon but they must also come with adequate resources. Rogue employers must fear the knock at the door.

“So this report is absolutely not the last word – it can only be the beginning, which is why we call upon the government to work with us to eliminate casual, zero hours employment that has ballooned in Britain.

Unite’s campaign to win justice for the Sports Direct warehouse workers stepped up in 2015.  As a result of Unite’s fight for fair wages for the warehouse workers, the HMRC has now announced that it will extend its inquiry into the non-payment of the minimum wage to include the company’s 13,000 shop workers.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Pauline Doyle on 07976 832 861 or Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940.  Email: or

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.