Sports Direct: 'Wholesale change' needed if Mike Ashley's appearance is to be more than a PR stunt

Union Employment Officer calls for Mike Ashley to make changes within Sports Direct after his admissions of pay errors in Parliament

Mike Ashley arrives at parliament on Tuesday to face MPs

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley needs to make "wholesale change" at the company following his admission to MPs that staff were paid below the minimum wage, employment rights specialist Hannah Reed has told talkRADIO. 

Ashley said that Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are investigating the sports retailer over allegations that staff at its Shirebrook, Derbyshire, warehouse were paid less than the legally acceptable rate as a result of time-consuming security checks carried out at the end of their shifts. The issue, he insisted, has now been addressed. 

The multi-millionaire, who also owns Newcastle United Football Club, also conceded that the policy of fining staff for being "a couple of minutes" late was "unacceptable".

Luke Primarolo from the Unite union told the hearing that there was "a culture of fear" in the warehouse, because "they are working under a system where they know they could lose their employment at any moment".

The warehouse's "strike system" drew particular criticism, with MPs being told staff could be given "a strike" for things such as spending too long in the toilet, excessive chatting or taking a day off sick.

Hannah Reed, who is the employment rights policy officer for the Trades Union Congress (TUC), highlighted how Ashley needed to ensure that his conciliatory words are backed up with action.

"He had to acknowledge in parliament there are serious problems in companies like Sports Direct," she told Jonny Gould and Ash. "One women felt so nervous about calling in sick she turned up to work and gave birth in a toilet.

"I'm not sure this is the type of workplace most people want to be involved in.

"It's welcome to see Mike Ashley turn up in parliament, but it's important it's not a PR stunt and he recognises that wholesale change is needed." 

Reed expressed her hope that, with its working practices now out in the open, Sports Direct would be more open to implementing change.

"What we hope is that Mike Ashley invites the unions in to talk about better pay and conditions," she said.

"The stories which have come out suggest there are Victorian working practices in these companies. 

"Leading retailers should be setting good practice and not employing the vast majority of their staff on zero-hours contracts."

It's important it's not a PR stunt and Mike Ashley recognises that wholesale change is needed
Hannah Reed, Trades Union Congress