Joining the campaign for better conditions at Sports Direct

What do you know about Sports Direct? That it’s owned by Newcastle United Chairman Mike Ashley? That there always seems to be a sale on? Perhaps you used to own one of their enormous mugs?

If you’re reading this you’re probably just as likely to know them for their famously poor employment rights. Workers paid below the minimum wage. Widespread use of zero-hours contracts. Or staff being penalised for as little as taking a short break to drink water or being off work when ill.

Sports Direct is not a good place to work – quite the opposite – with the employer becoming a watchword for the poor working conditions and dodgy employment practices many face in austerity Britain.

Worst of all, working at Sports Direct can be dangerous. Sports Direct’s warehouse staff are three times as likely to be injured at work as those working in agriculture, one of the least-safe sectors for workers.

Many people have campaigned against Sports Direct’s behaviour – including a strong campaign from Unite which exposed the firm’s workplace practises – culminating in a report from the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. They found that working practices at Sports Direct “are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer”.

As a public sector union, UNISON doesn’t have members in Sports Direct. But we can still make our voices heard and play our part in taking on unscrupulous employers. As a member of the Trade Union Share Owners group, the UNISON staff pension fund (alongside the TUC and others) has called on fellow Sports Direct shareholders to vote for a full independent reveiw of the organisation’s working practices at the upcoming AGM. Disappointingly the board have opposed this – despite previous claims that co-operation will be forthcoming.

Sports Direct are the face of bad work conditions at present. If they want that to change, they need to be proactive. Allowing a full, independent investigation of what it’s like to work there is a crucial first step – and UNISON will continue to work with other unions and shareholders to fight for that.