Sports Direct accused of yet another ‘PR stunt’ to dis...

Sports Direct accused of yet another ‘PR stunt’ to distract from ‘Victorian’ work practices

31 December 2015

Sports Direct needs to become an accredited living wage employer and end abusive work practices if it’s to realise Mike Ashley’s promise of becoming a model employer on a par with John Lewis, Britain’s largest union, Unite said today (Thursday 31 December).

The call from Unite, which represents permanent workers at the retailer’s Shirebrook depot and head office in Derbyshire, follows today’s announcement by Sports Direct to increase pay for 18 to 20- year-olds to £5:45 and £6.85 an hour for workers aged over 21.

Accusing Sports Direct of engaging  in yet another ‘PR stunt’ to distract attention from ‘Victorian’ work practices at its Shirebrook warehouse, Unite urged Mike Ashley to lay out the scope and timing of his review into working conditions at Shirebrook.

The review into working conditions for agency workers engaged by Sports Direct through Transline and Best Connections follows an ongoing campaign by Unite and a Guardian investigation which found that extra, unpaid time taken for "rigorous" compulsory searches meant workers were paid less than the minimum wage.
Working conditions at the depot have been likened to a ‘gulag’ and are underpinned by a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure. Under the procedure agency workers can get ‘strikes’ for taking too long in the toilet, talking too much or even having time off for sickness.

A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation earlier in 2015 exposed a workforce in constant fear of losing their jobs with staff in the Shirebrook warehouse named and shamed over a tannoy for not working fast enough. A separate BBC investigation found that ambulances were called to Shirebrook site more than 80 times in two years.

Commenting Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo said: “This pitiful promise by Sports Direct to pay just over the minimum wage should not distract from the ‘Victorian’ work practices at the retailer’s massive Shirebrook depot. Nor should it deter HMRC from investigating the possible non-payment of the minimum wage to the thousands of agency staff who eke out a living on the site.

“Fundamental problems remain at Sports Direct ranging from the exploitative use of zero hours contracts in its stores through to ‘gulag’ working conditions at its main warehouse in Shirebrook. Mike Ashley needs to lay out the scope and timing of his review into the use of agency workers and engage with Unite as a matter of urgency.

“If Mike Ashely is to fulfill his promise of making Sports Direct a model employer then he needs to commit Sports Direct to becoming a living wage employer and stamp out abusive work practices by putting all staff on permanent contracts. Otherwise he risks accusations of engaging in yet another ‘PR stunt’ and a continued loss of confidence among customers and investors alike.”

For further information please contact Unite head of media and campaigns Alex Flynn on 07967 665869.
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
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.