Workers at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse are being denied “dignity and respect, and justice” and are governed by a “culture of fear” according to bosses from the Unite union speaking in front of the House of Commons’ Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on Tuesday.
They also accused the company of having a “contempt for human rights.”
Speaking to MPs, Unite representatives Steven Turner and Luke Primarolo listed a series of shocking allegations against the retailer, majority owned by billionaire Mike Ashley, including that some agency staff employed at the warehouse in Nottinghamshire are so scared to miss work for fear of being sacked that they have continued to come to work despite being severely ill.
According to Primarolo, one worker even gave birth to a child in one of the warehouse’s toilets, as a result of the fear of missing work instilled in agency staff.
Unite’s representatives said that instead of having any recourse to disciplinary action, workers at Shirebrook are given so-called “strikes” for misdemeanours as minor as spending too much time in the toilet, talking to colleagues too often, and taking days off work for sick leave.
Primarolo told the Committee that this system has created a “significant health and safety risk” in the warehouse and created a culture of “presenteeism” where workers come into work despite being unwell. “People are scared because they are working under a system when they know they could lose their employment at any moment,” he added.
Turner also accused Sports Direct as a company of having a “contempt for human rights,” and said there is an “arrogance” at the top of the company. “Dignity and respect and justice is vital… and it’s being denied to workers in this warehouse.”
Turner and Primarolo’s comments concerned agency workers not directly employed by Sports Direct, who are employed on contracts that guarantee only 336 hours per year, meaning that once workers hit that target, (roughly nine weeks of a nine to five routine) they don’t necessarily have to be given more work. “There is no legitimacy for employing workers in a precarious way… either in the workforce or the retail space,” Turner said.
The BIS Select Committee inquiry concerns allegations first made in late 2015 by the Guardian, including that the company is effectively paying workers less than minimum wage because of lengthy compulsory searches and that some workers were so scared to take sick leave that they called ambulances to the office.
Since those allegations were first made in The Guardian newspaper, Sports Direct has committed to paying at least minimum wage to all staff, costing the company £10 million.