16 December 2016
After an undercover Channel 4 News investigation has revealed conditions at a JD Sports warehouse to be “worse than a prison”.
The expose, broadcast on Wednesday (14 December 2016), discovered some policies were “twice as bad as Sports Direct”, which has famously been shamed by politicians and the media for what has been described as a “Victorian” approach to staff.
At JD Sports, three “strikes” would lead to dismissal and a “strike” could include anything from sitting down, being one minute late, or having chewing gum or sweets.
Workers are employed through an agency called Assist Recruitment on zero-hours contracts, paid at minimum wage, but there is evidence of workers arriving on site only to be told to go home because there is no work.
Furthermore, workers are not paid for the extensive, airport-style security checks they must endure before and after their shifts, which can take up to 30 minutes a day.
Iain Wright MP, Chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, told Channel 4 News: “I think there is a cultural and structural issue in Britain. We treat our low paid workers in this country like scum. We don’t give them any dignity or respect. And I think it is an absolute disgrace that in this country you are on minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, that you’re frightened you might lose your job and that you might not have an opportunity to go to another job. And yet you are shouted and barked at like a dog.”
At the Institute of Employment Rights, we do not believe this situation has come about solely by a ‘changing world of work’, but rather has been encouraged by the degradation of workers’ rights since the Thatcher government 35 years ago.
As employment law has been slowly removed by successive governments, businesses have been incentivised to compete on a race to the bottom on wages and conditions for their staff rather than through training and innovation to increase productivity and the quality of their products and services. This has led to a low-skilled, low-wage, low productivity economy that is heading the UK towards a litany of crises.
We now face increasing inequality (the wage gap in the UK is now the largest in Europe), UK productivity is lagging behind our major G7 competitors by the largest gap on record, only 10% of low earners ever make it on to a higher wage (according to a recent Social Mobility Commission report), and nearly a quarter of jobs go unfilled because our workforce does not have the requisite skills. The Social Mobility Commission warns this can only get worse if urgent action is not taken, predicting a growth in low-skilled unemployment, and a recruitment crisis among businesses that need higher skilled workers, of which we do not produce enough.
The Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 policy recommendations adopted by the Labour Party – aims to reverse this trend by reforming employment law. The overarching goal is to shift labour law from statutory minimums, which provide employers with a floor to aim for, to collectively agreed wages and conditions at both sectoral and enterprise levels. We propose providing workers with democracy at every level of the economy, with a seat on their company board, the ability to negotiate for their pay and conditions through trade unions, representation in parliament via a reinstated Ministry of Labour with a cabinet seat, and a voice on a National Economic Forum, through which all of society’s stakeholders can scrutinise the impact of policy proposals.