Sports Direct workers are standing up to zero hours contracts – and bosses’ broken promises

Without immediate action, Mike Ashley has betrayed the thousands of Sports Direct workers who deserve some basic security in their lives.

Last year, Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley made a pledge. He said he’d give casual retail staff guaranteed hours instead of zero-hours contracts – and that he’d clear up working practices in the firm.

One year on, Unite have revealed that no such thing has happened.

Yesterday the union revealed that Sports Direct are still using exploitative zero-hours contracts.

In Wednesday’s PMQs, Corbyn challenged the PM on the matter:

“At last year’s Sports Direct annual meeting MA personally pledged to ban the use of zero-hours contracts in his company. A year on they’re still exploiting insecure workers with zero-hours contracts. Will the PM join me in demanding Mr Ashley honours his word and end zero-hours contracts in all his companies?”

Not only did she dodge the question, she mocked him. As Unite’s Steve Turner noted: “May had the chance today to condemn the abuse at Sports Direct and McDonalds. She refused.” For a PM that claims to champion the working poor, it is an insult.

We know the effect precarious work has on people.

Last year the TUC published Living on the Edge, looking at the extent of insecure work in Britain today.

It found there are 3.2 million people who face insecurity in work in the UK – either because they are working on a contract that does not guarantee decent employment rights (including zero hours contracts, agency and casual work), or because they are in low paid self-employment (earning less than the government’s National Living Wage). That’s one in ten of those in work – and they are miss out on key rights and protections at work. More than that though, they are disproportionately women and ethnic minorities.

And their 2017 report The Gig is Up showed: “Nearly 500,000 people on a zero-hours contract or in insecure temporary work do not qualify for statutory sick pay because they do not meet the income tests to qualify for these benefits.”

Today though, migrant workers took a stand outside Sports Direct stores – and their AGM – to hold Ashley and his colleagues to account. 

Instead of improving conditions for workers, it appears to have got worse – and weirder. Unite revealed last week that Sports Direct is using touch pads with ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ faces to gauge workers satisfaction – with workers pressing the ‘sad’ emoji called in for a meeting with management.

Forget emojis – the company should be offering workers real improvements.

Owen Espley, Labour Rights campaigner, War on Want said:

Whilst workers continue to face the constant threat of instant dismissal, the government’s review into ‘modern employment practices’ failed to address the massive imbalance of power they create in the workplace.

“Precarious contracts are both a cause and an effect of discrimination in the workplace. Women and migrant workers are both more likely to be in insecure work and suffer their worst effects: bullying and abuse. The time has come to end precarious contracts.”

Without immediate action, Mike Ashley has betrayed the thousands of Sports Direct workers who deserve some basic security in their lives. It’s only right that he is being held to account – through Parliament and through protest.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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