MPs call for Sports Direct to pay ‘real’ living wage

Campaigners sing a hymn about exploitation outside Sport Direct store in Mansfield
Campaigners sing a hymn about exploitation outside Sport Direct store in Mansfield

Pressure is mounting on under fire Shirebrook-based Sports Direct to employ agency workers on permanent contracts and to start paying the ‘real’ living wage.

Calls by Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero and Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner, who have constituents working at the depot, come just days after the sports retailer issued a profits warning and follows a briefing held in Mansfield by union Unite.

The briefing heard that a review by owner Mike Ashley into the treatment of agency workers, lacked independence and risked being viewed as a ‘sham’ without trade union involvement.

Mike Ashley’s review follows an ongoing campaign by Unite which represents permanent workers at the retailer’s depot and head office.

A recent Guardian investigation found that extra, unpaid time taken for “rigorous” compulsory searches meant workers were paid less than the minimum wage leading to calls for a HMRC investigation.

Gloria De Piero MP for Ashfield said: “I’ll never forget my constituent Liga Shaw coming to see to tell me about her Dad, Guntars Zarins, who worked at the warehouse in Shirebrook.

“Mr Zarins collapsed with a blood clot on his brain and is now in wheelchair because he was too scared to phone in sick in case he got a mark against his name.

“Working practices like this have no place in this day and age. Michael Ashley should hang his head in shame over what has gone on at his firm under his watch.”

Working conditions at the depot have been likened to a ‘gulag’ and are underpinned by a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure. Under the procedure, agency workers can get ‘strikes’ for taking too long in the toilet, talking too much or even having time off for sickness.

A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in 2015 exposed a workforce in constant fear of losing their jobs with staff in the Shirebrook warehouse ‘named and shamed’ over a tannoy for not working fast enough. A separate BBC investigation found that ambulances were called to Shirebrook site more than 80 times in two years.

Unite regional officer, Luke Primarolo, said: “Sports Direct needs to heed the call from MPs to end abusive work practices by putting agency workers on permanent contracts and paying the proper living wage.

“As Friday’s profit warning shows fundamental problems remain at Sports Direct from the use of zero hours contracts in its stores through to the treatment of agency workers at its main warehouse in Shirebrook.

“A continued failure by Mike Ashley to involve Unite and other independent bodies in his review of agency workers runs the risk of it being seen as a whitewash and adding to the growing unease of customers and the city.

“If Mike Ashley is to restore investor confidence and realise his promise of becoming a model employer, then he needs to start working with Unite to restore dignity to the workplace.”