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Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley to review agency worker terms and conditions

Published 18/12/2015

There has been criticism of Sports Direct's pay and employment practices
There has been criticism of Sports Direct's pay and employment practices

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley is to oversee a review of all agency worker terms and conditions at the company, the board has announced.

The move follows criticism of the retail giant's pay and employment practices, including the use of zero hours contracts, under which staff don't know how many hours they will work from one week to the next.

The Unite union has mounted a campaign against the company, holding demonstrations and briefing MPs in Parliament earlier this week.

In a long statement today, Sports Direct defended itself against the criticism.

The statement said: "Sports Direct has sought to address questions relating to its employment practices on a case-by-case basis directly with the enquirer, but it has become evident that by doing so various parties have chosen to ignore the facts provided and have continued to present an unfair portrayal of the company's employment practices.

"Sadly, it is also now clear that some others have chosen to rely on this portrayal when making public statements about Sports Direct, rather than obtaining information directly from the company before commenting.

"The board takes its responsibilities towards all the company's stakeholders, be they staff, contractors, suppliers or customers, extremely seriously.

"Without our commitment to our staff and the implementation of a performance-led culture which encourages success, there is no way Sports Direct would have been able to grow from a single sports shop over 33 years ago to the global retailer it is today."

The board said it was making the statement to counter "unfounded criticisms" of its employment practices. MPs have called for an investigation into allegations that workers were paid below the minimum wage and were subjected to body searches.

The statement continued: "Sports Direct directly employs a number of staff in the Shirebrook warehouse. The remaining workers in the warehouse have contracts with one of two main agencies the company uses to staff the warehouse. These contracts are on an agreed (between the worker and the agency) contracted hours basis.

"No Sports Direct employees are engaged in the Shirebrook warehouse on a zero hour contract, and the main agencies have confirmed to us that none of their workers are engaged on a zero hour contract.

"The two main agencies that Sports Direct uses to provide workers at Shirebrook supply workers to hundreds of companies nationally including many retail warehouses. The agencies use the same core terms and conditions for all their employees (totalling 35,000 across the UK), with some limited localised variations. A review of all the terms and conditions applicable to the agency workers supplied to Sports Direct will be undertaken, and we will be considering implementing appropriate additional variations once that review is completed.

"Neither agency workers nor employees are subjected to 'naming and shaming' via publication of a league table identifying individuals by name. The company uses an anonymous ranking system to monitor performance. An individual's unique number (known only to the employment agencies, the company and the worker) benchmarks staff against the anonymised data of their peers. Individuals can check their performance, should they wish to do so.

"The warehouse tannoy is not used to 'harangue' or 'name and shame' staff. The tannoy is used for logistical reasons, for example, to redeploy staff to other areas of the building or to let staff know that a truck is waiting for stock to be dispatched.

"Sports Direct does not penalise its staff for being ill. Sanctions may be applied if workers fail to follow the company's reasonable sickness absence notification procedures, which are in line with industry best practice. The company is not aware of any occasions on which sick children have not been able to be collected from school by their parents. Sports Direct allows staff time off to look after dependants in such circumstances."

The firm said all employees, agency workers and visitors, including executive management and board members, were subject to random searches on leaving the Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire.

"Trained security staff conduct random searches and the company continues to keep the process under review, with the aim of reducing any inconvenience to staff as much as possible."

Sports Direct said its zero hour terms do not prohibit a casual worker seeking work from another company.

"A significant number of casual workers have moved from zero hour terms into permanent employment when the circumstances allow (for example, when the worker wishes to apply for a permanent role if one becomes available).

"Many of these workers have developed very successful careers within Sports Direct, including the chief executive, senior head office management, regional managers, area managers, store managers and many more.

"Sports Direct always seeks to improve and do things better, listens to criticism and acts where appropriate. With that in mind, as noted above, the board has agreed that Mike Ashley shall personally oversee a review of all agency worker terms and conditions to ensure the company does not just meet its legal obligations, but also provides a good environment for the entire workforce. We expect him to start that work in the New Year."

There are around 4,300 agency workers employed in Sports Direct's warehouse.

The company employs around 28,000 staff across the UK and Europe.

Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo said: "Shameful 'Victorian' work practices have no place in modern Britain and this review should not deter HMRC from investigating the non-payment of the minimum wage to agency workers at Sports Direct.

"Unite has repeatedly raised concerns with the board and Mike Ashley directly about the use of 'Victorian' work practices.

"We look forward to participating fully with Mike Ashley's review and to working with Sports Direct to eradicate the mistreatment of workers at its Shirebrook warehouse.

"If his review is to be taken seriously then it has to have concrete outcomes, such as restoring dignity at work by moving Best Connection and Transline workers onto permanent contracts.

"A failure to do so will do nothing to restore investor and customer confidence and leave the board open to accusations of doing nothing more than engaging in a public relations stunt."

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