Sports Direct caught breaking promise to end using exp...

Sports Direct caught breaking promise to end using exploitative zero hours contracts

05 September 2017

Sports Direct is accused of ‘business as usual’ today (Tuesday 5 September) as Britain’s largest union, Unite revealed the controversial sports retailer had broken promises to offer its store staff guaranteed hours instead of exploitative zero hours contracts.

At its annual general meeting last year, amid accusations of ‘Victorian’ work practices, Sports Direct pledged to offer guaranteed hours to all store staff in response to a review of its working practices by City law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain.

Fast forward a year to the eve of this year’s annual general meeting and an analysis of Sports Direct’s job site and store fronts shows the retailer continuing to advertise for casual workers with no guaranteed hours in Sports Direct and upmarket Flannels stores across the UK.   

In a clear break with commitments made to the public, investors and shareholders, the job adverts show that the retailer is still using zero hours contracts and not offering guaranteed hours, clearly stating: ‘This role has no guaranteed hours of work, hours of work can therefore vary from week to week and, as a result, there may be weeks when no hours of work are offered.’

The broken promise comes ahead of tomorrow’s (Wednesday 6 September) annual general meeting at Shirebrook, where the future of the under fire Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell, hangs in the balance. A string of investment groups plan to vote him out after expressing concern that not enough progress has been made on corporate governance and labour relations.

It also follows accusations of an ‘emoji con’ after Unite revealed last week that Sports Direct is using touch pads with ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ faces to gauge workers satisfaction. 

Unite understands that finger recognition technology is being used, with workers asked to touch a ‘happy’ or ‘sad emoji’ as they clock in to indicate whether they feel they are treated with respect. Workers pressing the ‘sad’ emoji are called in for a meeting with management.

Commenting Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “This revelation shows it is ‘business as usual’ at Sports Direct and casts doubt on just how sincere it is about cleaning up its act. 

“Made amid great fanfare, Sports Direct’s commitment to wean itself off exploitative zero hours contracts and offer store staff guaranteed hours was meant to demonstrate the retailer was serious about dealing with abusive working practices.

“Yet one year on Sports Direct has been caught red handed breaking its promise to offer workers the security of knowing what hours they will work and how much they will earn from one week to the next.   

“With the retailer advertising for causal workers in its Sports Direct and upmarket Flannels stores across the UK, it is clear this is no mistake, but a return to the bad old ways once the spotlight had gone away.

“It blows a hole in Sports Direct’s commitment to treat workers with dignity and respect.

“We would urge investors and shareholders to vote against the re-election of Sports Direct’s chairman Keith Hellawell and send a message to the board that ‘bad business as usual’ is unacceptable.”


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.