Protestors target Sports Direct AGM over ‘Victorian’ w...

Protestors target Sports Direct AGM over ‘Victorian’ work practices as shareholders revolt

08 September 2015

EVENT: ‘Dickensian’ workers to protest at Sports Direct AGM
WHEN: Wednesday 9 September 14:00-15:00
WHERE: Sports Direct headquarters and warehouse, Shirebrook, Derbyshire 

Unite members dressed as Dickensian workers will be protesting outside tomorrow’s (Wednesday 9 September) Sports Direct annual general meeting demanding an end to ‘Victorian’ work practices at the retailer’s Shirebrook warehouse and that the company pays a real living wage of £7.85 per hour.

The protest organised by Britain’s largest union is part of a national day of action outside over 40 Sports Direct stores across the UK. It comes amid a shareholder revolt over the company’s governance and employment practices resulting in calls for the Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell to stand down at tomorrow’s AGM.

The AGM, which is being held the Sports Direct’s headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, is also home to its main warehouse where working conditions have been likened to a Victorian ‘workhouse’. 

Shareholders, including the Trade Union Share Owners group, are expected to grill the under fire chair and board over the conditions which see agency workers on zero hours contracts working in fear of a ‘six strikes and you’re out rule’. Workers also face being ‘named and shamed’ over a tannoy for not working hard enough.  

Unite, which represents permanent workers at the site, estimates that as many as 3,000 workers are eking out a living in such conditions through two employment agencies – Best Connection and Transline. Under the ‘six strikes and you’re out of a job’ rule, agency workers can get ‘strikes’ for taking too long in the toilet, talking too much or even having time off for sickness.

Keith Hellawell and the board are also expected to come under fire over the ‘rampant’ use of low paid zero hours contracts in its UK stores with Sports Direct now accounting for a fifth of all such contracts in the retail sector. 

Commenting Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo said: “Low paid agency workers on zero hours contracts are being subjected to working conditions that are more akin to a Dickensian workhouse than a FTSE 100 company’s warehouse.

“These Victorian era conditions combined with Sports Direct’s rampant use of zero hours contracts across its stores, only adds to the charge that Keith Hellawell and the board are running Sports Direct like a ‘Backstreet outfit’.

“With question marks over corporate governance and dire employment practices, we would urge shareholders to join Unite and the Trade Union Share Owners group in sending a message to the board by opposing the re-election of Keith Hellawell.

“It’s time for Sports Direct to restore dignity and security at work by paying the real living wage and putting staff on permanent contracts.

“It’s time too for the Tory government to stop trying to make it harder for trade unions to stand up to abusive practices such as those at Sports Direct through its ideologically driven Trade Union bill.” 

Unite has launched an  online petition calling for an end to ‘Draconian’ working practices  and an end to Sports Direct’s reliance on zero hours contracts. . 


For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665869. 

Notes to editors

  • 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.