The programme, watched by two million viewers, showed workers at the group’s Shirebrook depot facing discipline for long toilet breaks and excessive chatting. It was claimed that all but 300 of the 5,000 staff were on zero-hour deals, which do not specify set working hours or guaranteed income, with employees declaring that they lived in fear of losing their jobs.
Unions slammed the group, led by Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, for running a “Victorian era” workplace.
Sports Direct said it had been given insufficient time to respond to the complaints aired in the programme. But on the question of zero-hours said: “In respect of staff working in our warehouse Sports Direct provides working conditions in compliance with applicable employment legislation.”
It was not the first time Sports Direct had been lambasted over zero-hours. For around two years the company had refused to acknowledge how many of its 19,000 UK staff were on these contracts despite widespread some media commentary that it ran into the thousands.
The issue gained political legs, particularly when it was claimed that other leading UK firms mainly in the retail, catering or hospitality sectors, employed staff on ‘zero-hour’ deals. Labour leader Ed Miliband vowed last year to crack down on these “exploitative” contracts if his party won the 2015 election.
His proposed changes included ensuring workers could demand a fixed-hours contract after working regular hours over six months for the same employer and receive a fixed-hours contract automatically after working regular hours for more than a year.
In tomorrow’s instalment of our Zero Hours series, we explore the claim that zero hours contracts can be mutually beneficial…