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Some warehouse practices 'unfair' admits Ashley

07 June 2016

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley told MPs at a select committee at the Houses of Parliament that it was wrong to fine workers for being a minute late.

The retailer was hauled before MPs to explain allegations arising from undercover reporting by the Guardian at its Shirebrook warehouse.

Sports Direct's Shirebrook facility operated a policy where workers were fined 15 minutes pay for being one minute late. The Guardian’s undercover reporters tested this and found it to be a mechanism that brought workers below the National Minimum Wage. Another was that workers were subjected to end-of-shift security searches, which was effectively unpaid work time.

Ashley acknowledged the policy was unfair.

"If you are one minute late you get docked 15 minutes pay? You ask me what I think? I think it's unacceptable," the told MPs.

"As I understand it the policy has changed. I don't know who set up this policy or when it started. It definitely wasn't a policy I put in because I don't believe it is fair.

"If it happened to one of my kids, I wouldn’t be very impressed. I think it's unreasonable," he explained.

Ashley admitted effectively paying less than the minimum wage and said Sports Direct was being investigated by HMRC on the issue. Although staff are still not being paid for time spent in security searches, Ashley hoped corrective measures such as faster throughput of staff through security procedures would rectify the problem.

Ashley defended himself saying the company had outgrown him and that the rapid growth of online retail had caught the company by surprise.

He said the boom in online shopping meant Shirebrook needed more and more workers and admitted the warehouse doesn’t yet have the automation it needs.

Ashley also conceded that ultimate responsibility for the company was his, and pledged to move more staff away from zero hours contacts with agencies to permanent roles.

Unite’s Steven Turner criticised Ashley.

"There is arrogance and contempt at the top of the company. We’ve seen it described as a workhouse, not a warehouse. Staff call it a gulag."

"The Health and Safety executive needs to take a closer took at Sports Direct, and other warehouses," Turner added.

Unite conceded the 20p per hour pay increase announced recently has addressed the minimum wage issue.