02 February 2017
Exploitative conditions have been found at yet another high street retailer – BooHoo – after a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation sent an undercover reporter into the retailer’s warehouse.
Agency workers are being searched when they arrive at and leave work, and even when they go to the toilet; they are required to walk up to 25 miles a day; and are not even paid for one of the two 30 minute breaks they are given, the programme revealed.
The report also found that 15 minutes of pay is subtracted from wages for being as little as one minute late, staff are not paid for the two-hour inductions they must attend, and workers will be terminated if they rack up three “strikes”. Agency workers allege that “strikes” are given for such minor things as checking their mobile phones, making simple mistakes, and even for smiling!
Whistleblower Keiron Hardman told the programme that he was told to issue such strikes when he worked as a team leader: “In one particular instance I received an email to ask me if I could give somebody as strike because somebody was actually smiling,” he confirmed.
Another worker explained that he had been given two strikes: One because his taxi broke down on the way to work, making him five minutes late; and another because he had to ask for a day off to care for his ill father. Later, a colleague explained that when overtime is offered you have to take it because if you decline you will be sacked.
Kieron commented: “It’s relentless. If somebody stops working for 5 or 10 minutes it will come up on the system. We know everything about that person. We can track everything that person is doing. Where he is in the warehouse and whether he’s hitting target or not and his down time as well.
“It does get to people. People are stressed. People feel under pressure to perform. It is a very simple job picking, and yet people are suffering from stress.”
Boohoo hires many of its workers through Tailored Recruitment Services but also recruits its own permanent staff. Those who are agency workers are receiving the worst treatment, the investigation demonstrated.
This comes after similar practices have been uncovered at retailers across the UK, including Sports Direct, JD Sports, Amazon and Asos. The Institute of Employment Rights argues that such exploitation has been allowed to get out of hand by changes to Labour Law that favour employers over workers. Anti-trade union legislation has made it more difficult for unions to negotiate for fair wages and conditions in workplaces, while agency staff are legally defined as “workers” with fewer basic working rights than permanent staff (“employees”), which encourages employers to take on agency workers and evade laws against such things as unfair dismissal.
In our Manifesto for Labour Law, we argue that there should only be one universal employment status for all people in employment and that everyone should be eligible for the full suite of workers’ rights from Day One. In addition, we propose that negotiations between trade unions and employers are encouraged at sectoral and enterprise levels to help keep wages and conditions at a fair standard and provide a voice to workers who are currently forced to do whatever their employer tells them for fear of being dismissed.