Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct faces protest over zero-hours contracts

A Sports Direct store.
A Sports Direct store.

A union will protest outside a sports shop owned by Newcastle United supremo Mike Ashley tomorrow, to demand an end to its ‘shameful’ use of zero-hours contracts.

Members of Unite’s community branch will be outside the Sports Direct store in Northumberland Street, Newcastle, highlighting the retailer’s ‘Victorian’ work practices.

The protest, between 5pm and 6pm, is part of a national day of action organised by the union to coincide with tomorrow’s Sports Direct’s annual general meeting.

Coming amid a shareholder revolt, Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell and the company’s board are expected to come under fire over the ‘rampant’ use of low-paid zero-hours contracts in its UK stores.

Three-quarters of staff in Sports Direct stores are on a zero-hours contract, with the company accounting for a fifth of all such contracts in the retail sector.

Shareholders, including the Trade Union Share Owners group, are also expected to grill the under-fire chairman and board over conditions at the retailer’s main workhouse.

There, agency workers on zero-hours contracts are working in fear of a ‘six strikes and you’re out rule’.

Workers at the Shirebrook depot in Derbyshire also face being ‘named and shamed’ over a tannoy for not working hard enough.

Unite, which represents permanent workers at the site, estimates that as many as 3,000 workers are eking out a living in such conditions through two employment agencies – Best Connection and Transline.

Under the ‘six strikes and you’re out’ of a job rule, agency workers can get strikes for taking too long in the toilet, talking too much or even having time off for sickness.

Unite regional community coordinator John Coan said: “Low-paid agency workers on zero-hours contracts are being subjected to working conditions that are more akin to a Dickensian workhouse than a FTSE 100 company’s warehouse.

“These Victorian-era conditions, combined with Sports Direct’s rampant use of zero-hours contracts across its stores, should have no place on the high streets of 21st century Britain.

“Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct is generating massive profits and can well afford to wean itself of a business model built on low pay and exploitative zero-hours contracts.

“It’s time for Sports Direct to restore dignity and security at work by paying the real living wage and putting staff on permanent contracts.

“It’s time too for the Tory government to stop trying to make it harder for trade unions to stand up to abusive practices, such as those at Sports Direct, through its ideologically-driven Trade Union Bill.”

Unite has launched an online petition calling for an end to ‘Draconian’ working practices and an end to Sports Direct’s reliance on zero-hours contracts.