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Unite pay justice result

Million pound back pay for Sports Direct workers
Hajera Blagg, Monday, August 15th, 2016

Sports Direct workers marked a significant milestone in their journey to justice today (August 15) after thousands of workers at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire are set to secure  £1m in back pay thanks to a Unite campaign that uncovered the company’s ‘Victorian’ work practices.


The revelation that Sports Direct workers were being subjected to invasive searches at the end of their shifts lasting up to 15 minutes or more – time for which they were not paid – prompted an HMRC investigation, which found that Sports Direct and the employment agencies it uses were in breach of minimum wage law.


Now, some individual workers will be compensated by up to £1,000 each, with pay being backdated from May 2012. Full payments for Sports Direct’s directly employed warehouse staff and those employed by the employment agency Best Connection are expected to receive full compensation by the end of this month.


Warehouse staff employed by the agency Transline may receive only half their pay for now  because of Transline’s refusal to honour its commitments from when it took over from Blue Arrow at Shirebrook two years ago.


The back pay deal was accepted after 96 per cent of Unite members working directly for Sports Direct voted to support the deal in a ballot.



This latest victory comes after the long-running Unite campaign against Sports Direct’s work practices – including being shamed on a tannoy for not working fast enough or being punished for taking too long in the toilet – prompted an investigation by MPs, who grilled Sports Direct boss and majority shareholder Mike Ashley at a business select committee in June.


The committee also took evidence from Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner and Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo, as well as executives from the employment agencies.


Remarkably, Ashley openly admitted that Sports Direct had paid its warehouse workers below the minimum wage.


In July, the MPS published a damning report which condemned Ashley for either “not knowing” about practices at the company’s Shirebrook warehouse or “turning a blind eye to such practices in the interests of maximising the revenue of Sports Direct.”


The committee sharply criticised the quality of the evidence given by both employment agencies as “woefully poor” and believes Transline may have “deliberately misled the Committee.”


Unite has taken a multi-dimensional approach in its Sports Direct campaign – beyond publicising the issues at Sports Direct on traditional and social media channels, Unite has helped organise workers, most of whom are Eastern European, by providing support such as English classes. Unite has also worked with shareholders to bring Sports Direct’s working practices to the attention of investors.



Most recently, Unite, in conjunction with the Trade Union Share Owners (TUSO) group –  a coalition of trade union funds (comprising the TUC, Unite, Unison and the International Transport Workers Federation) with over £1.5bn assets on the capital markets, including shareholdings in Sports Direct – officially submitted a resolution to be voted on next month at Sports Direct’s AGM.


The resolution calls on the Sports Direct board to commission an independent review into its work practices that reports back to shareholders within six months.


Sports Direct shareholders received a statement from Unite supporting the resolution, which argued that a review should call on the company to consider paying the voluntary Living Wage of £8.25 to all its workers and to move workers on temporary, insecure contracts to permanent contracts.


While the board has rejected the resolution and has urged shareholders to do the same, Unite has shored up support for the motion from many major Sports Direct investors, who are concerned that the reputation and poor working practices of the company are damaging its financial performance.


Unite continues to urge shareholders to back the resolution at Sports Direct’s AGM on September 7.


Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner hailed today’s back pay win for Sports Direct workers.


He called it a “significant victory in Unite’s ongoing campaign to secure justice and dignity at work for workers at Sports Direct” and added that it “demonstrates the importance of modern trade unions in Britain today.”


“But investors and customers alike should not be fooled into thinking that everything is now rosy at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse,” Turner argued. “Transline, one of the employment agencies involved, is disgracefully still trying to short-change workers by seeking to duck its responsibilities.


“Deep seated problems still remain regarding the use of agency workers with the behaviour of both Transline and The Best Connection further jeopardising Sports Direct’s battered reputation.


“Sports Direct needs to make Transline face up to its responsibilities and seriously confront endemic abuses within its employment agencies.”


“Mike Ashley and the Sports Direct board should be under no illusions,” Turner warned. “The charge of ‘Victorian’ work practices will continue to weigh heavily on Sports Direct until it moves long standing agency workers onto direct, permanent contracts and weans itself off its reliance upon zero hours contracts.


“Unite will seek to engage constructively with Sports Direct where possible and urges the retailer to continue dialogue with us so that we can assist it in meeting Mike Ashley’s ambition of being an exemplar employer.”





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