Unite – the union fighting for a fair deal for Sports Direct workers – has warned today (April 12) that the company’s newly appointed board member will face an uphill struggle to have workers’ concerns heard and to resolve the deep-rooted problems across the business.
Unite called for the company to waste no further time in now moving agency workers onto permanent contracts.
Sports Direct has announced that a store manager from Barnstable, Alex Balacki, 30, will be appointed to a seat on what Unite understands is their six-strong `leadership team’. Balacki first started working for the firm 13 years ago, when he started as a casual sales assistant.
Commenting, Luke Primarolo, Unite’s officer leading the union’s campaign at Sports Direct, said, “Unite wishes the newest member of the Sports Direct board well and would like to offer to meet as soon as possible so that we can brief him on the experiences of the workforce.
“We urge that he makes one of his first acts to persuade the company that agency workers on insecure hire-and-fire contracts are offered permanent appointments.
“Only when Sports Direct eliminates its dependence on agencies will it avert the situation we have now whereby dozens of workers are still awaiting repayment of money owed to them as a result of the underpayment of the national minimum wage by the Transline agency used by the company to supply warehouse workers.
“We sincerely hope that the new board member will take up our invitation to meet. As a company appointee he faces an uphill struggle to convince the workforce that he will be their eyes and ears in the boardroom.
“If the company is to go down the route of workers on the board, then they should be elected in an open and transparent process.”
Unite recently informed the Commons’ business select committee that workers employed at Sports Direct are still awaiting the wages that they are owed by their agency Transline, who failed to pay the workers the minimum wage.
Unite first discovered that Sports Direct was illegally paying their warehouse workers below the minimum wage in 2015, when the union helped bring to light the fact that workers were being forced to submit to invasive searches after shifts — time for which they were not paid.
After a concerted grassroots and media campaign, Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley was hauled in front of MPs and made to answer for the many draconian practices his firm employs, including ‘naming and shaming’ workers on a tannoy, punishing workers for the smallest perceived infraction such as taking too many toilet breaks and subjecting workers to searches.
Unite eventually helped win £1m in back pay for agency workers, but Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner told a business select committee last month that one of the two agencies employing warehouse staff had refused to pay the back payment for the for the period of employment that employees had before Transline took over the contract.
“So they are refusing to honour the transfer of undertakings regulations [commonly referred to as TUPE],” Turner told MPs.
“This is a huge issue,” he noted. “This is hundreds and hundreds of pounds for thousands of workers, where Best Connection, the other agency, has honoured the agreement and paid in full. Sports Direct has paid in full. But one agency, Transline, has decided it’s not going to do that.”
Unite continues to make the case for all agency workers at Sports Direct to be moved onto permanent contracts and for Transline to pay workers still awaiting their back payments their due.