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Sports Direct faces down union despite Ashley's blunders

08 September 2016

Shareholders of Sports Direct voted almost 80% against commissioning an independent review into working practices at Sports Direct.

Unite the union had called for an independent review of working practices at Sports Direct.

Sports Direct has taken a number of steps to counter claims of warehouse worker abuses but the union wants the retailer to go further, particularly in its use of indirect workers via agencies.

When the union questioned Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley on the issue at the company's AGM, he reacted angrily and refused to answer further queries.

Ashley then led press on a warehouse tour. The retailer had come under attack for failing to pay warehouse workers minimum wage because of security checks they had to undergo at the end of their shifts.

As Ashley went through this same security process himself he produced a thick bundle of £50 notes among his possessions. Somewhat red-faced he then announced he had just come from a casino.

The day before, Sports Direct had issued its internal report reacting to the Guardian's undercover investigation which revealed serious concerns about working practices at the retailer's Shirebrook warehouse.

The report showed a number of areas where the retailer has moved to counter abuses.

For example, the company cooperated with HMRC to agree back-payments to directly employed warehouse staff in order to reimburse losses that occurred as a result of the breach of National Minimum Wage regulations.

The Board is also considering running a test scheme aiming to transfer ten picking staff a month from agencies to direct employment.

Sports Direct also ditched its 'six strikes and you are out' policy.

The report read: "The balance of the evidence from the staff we interviewed was that the system was one of the major negatives for the warehouse staff. It was perceived as being unfair in design and deployment. A number of the grounds for obtaining a strike

were seen as manifestly arbitrary and it was suggested that they were given out on occasion without good cause."

The Board also reaffirmed its view the retailer's agency warehouse worker dependent business model should be reviewed to see if it is in the best interest of wider business strategy. The review is expected to be concluded in the next review report to be completed in 2017.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: "While the report marks significant progress, not least the eradication of the six strikes and you are out system, Unite still has concerns over the use of the two employment agencies, The Best Connection and Transline, which supply over 3,400 workers to the Sports Direct Shirebrook warehouse. For Unite it has been their behaviour and the lack of oversight that has been the cause of so many of the abuses at Shirebrook. 

"We therefore call on Sports Direct to reconsider its proposal to only move 10 agency workers a month onto direct, permanent contracts.

“Unite believes the board can be bolder in the coming months and put in place a framework agreement to move bigger numbers of agency workers into direct employment, as well eradicating the use of short hour contracts such as the annualised 336 hours contract currently in use at Shirebrook."