17 August 2016
New reports on Sports Direct have shown how the retailer is exploiting some of its most vulnerable workers.
High court papers seen by the Guardian this week have revealed that new mothers returning from maternity leave at Sports Direct, as well as workers transferred from a company the retailer had purchased, were moved onto zero-hour contracts, removing essential employment rights and excluding them from a generous bonus scheme.
The documents relate to a case involving 188 current and former Sports Direct employees claiming a breach of contract after they missed out on salary increases afforded to other workers.
Around 2,000 workers saw their salary more than quadruped after receiving the bonus, but those who had been moved onto zero-hour contracts were not offered the same deal. This is despite many of those employees being long-serving employees of the company, with one claimant having worked there for 22 years.
It is claimed Sports Direct breached TUPE regulations when it significantly altered the contracts of a group of staff transferred from a former employer, which had previously guaranteed a minimum number of hours.
David Martyn, an employment expert at the legal firm Thompsons, told the Guardian: “Whatever your contractual rights at the point of TUPE transfer, they must be respected by a new employer. It would be highly unusual that moving people to zero-hours contracts would be lawful.”
Elsewhere, UNITE has won a case against the retailer after it was shown thousands of Sports Direct warehouse workers were not paid the minimum wage for four years.
The company has been ordered to compensate the workers with around £1 million in back pay in total. Most of the claimants were hired through employment agencies The Best Connection and Transline.
However, Assistant General Secretary for UNITE Steve Turner criticised Transline for holding some of the compensation back from workers, as it claims some of the underpaid work occurred before the agency took over the contracts from rival agency Blue Arrow.
Steve said: “Investors and customers alike should not be fooled into thinking that everything is now rosy at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse. Transline, one of the employment agencies involved, is disgracefully still trying to short-change workers by seeking to duck its responsibilities.”
“Deep-seated problems still remain regarding the use of agency workers with the behaviour of both Transline and The Best Connection further jeopardising Sports Direct’s battered reputation,” he added.
These are just some of the issues the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 policy proposals for the next Labour government – promises to address, by strengthening workers’ voices in both the economy and their workplace and redress the balance of power between employers and their workers.
Backing the IER’s Manifesto, UNITE General Secretary Len McCluskey said: “Not only has policy since Thatcher held us back from harnessing the potential of our workforce, it has also left the lowest paid and the most vulnerable workers in our society in dire straits.
British workers have some of the most stressful and most uncertain working lives in Europe, and CEOs are profiting from it. Our wage gap is higher than anywhere else in the EU. This is a disgraceful state of affairs and UNITE will move to support a genuine alternative that promotes cooperation between workers and employers in the best interests of everyone, rather than the divide and conquer approach of the Tory Party.”
“We are delighted to support the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law, which provides us with the policy framework we need to move forward with a more progressive agenda in 2020,” he added.
The Manifesto has also been supported by the Labour leadership and the UK’s major trade unions.