Belfast Telegraph

Sports Direct 'breaking zero-hour contracts promise'

By Ben Woods

Sports Direct has been accused of reneging on a promise to offer guaranteed hours to staff on zero-hour contracts in a fresh blow to the firm ahead of its annual meeting.

Unite the union claims the troubled retailer, which has more than 10 stores here, has been looking to take on casual staff on zero-hour contracts despite vowing to stop the practice at last year's AGM.

Sports Direct said it would offer guaranteed hours to all staff following a review by its law firm RPC, which it launched in response to claims that "Victorian"-style working conditions were rife throughout the firm.

However, Britain's biggest union said the retailer was still advertising for casual workers and offering flexible contracts on Sports Direct storefronts and its jobs website.

It comes as Unite and investment manager Hermes added their names to the chorus of dissenting voices calling for chairman Keith Hellawell to step down following the AGM at the firm's controversial warehouse in Shirebrook.

Steve Turner, Unite's assistant general secretary, 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 casual 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."

Pressure has been mounting on Mr Hellawell after a number of investors in the retailer publicly voiced their opposition to his re-election ahead of a crunch vote on Wednesday

The former West Yorkshire Police chief constable and government drugs tsar has presided over a long list of scandals and controversies at the tracksuit chain.

He has pledged to step down if he does not receive the support of a majority of independent shareholders at the firm's AGM this week.

In January, Mr Hellawell saw 54% of independent shareholders vote against his reappointment.

His position was saved by Mike Ashley, who owns 55% of the company and whose backing meant Mr Hellawell was re-elected with a total of 80.92% of votes cast.

Belfast Telegraph

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