Campaigners will be urging Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley's Sports Direct retail chain to ‘have a heart’ this Valentine's Day and end ‘Victorian’ work practices.
Members of Britain’s largest union, Unite, will be protesting outside the company's Newcastle stores tomorrow and handing in Valentine’s cards calling on the retailer to ‘have a heart’ by putting staff on permanent contracts and paying the real living wage.
The protests are part of a national campaign day organised by the union against the retailer’s ‘Victorian’ work practices, which will see a 20,000-strong petition handed in at Sport Direct’s headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.
The latest action follows a series of ‘Sports Direct Shame’ protests by Newcastle United and Glasgow Rangers football fans over the company's work practices and treatment of agency workers at its main warehouse.
Conditions for agency workers in the warehouse have been likened to a ‘gulag’, with staffworking in fear of a ‘six strikes and you’re out' rule.
A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in 2015 exposed a workforce in constant fear of losing their jobs, with staff in the Shirebrook warehouse named and shamed over a loudspeaker for not working fast enough.
A separate BBC investigation found that ambulances were called to the Shirebrook site more than 80 times in two years.
John Coan, Unite's community coordinator for the North East, said: “Sports Direct has become a byword for Victorian work practices and shoddy corporate governance.
"So much so, over 20,000 people have signed a petition telling the retailer it’s time for them to clean their act up.
“Football fans from Newcastle and Rangers have also made their feelings known, while investors and business groups, like the Institute of Directors, have voiced their continued and deep concern.
“Sports Direct cannot match billionaire boss Mike Ashley’s promise of becoming a model employer by merely paying lip service to reviewing employment practices and giving pitiful pay rises. The problems run far deeper.
"Sports Direct needs a fundamental rethink of its corporate governance and the way it treats its staff if it’s to repair its tarnished reputation and damaged share price.
“Sports Direct needs to have a heart, put staff on permanent contracts, and pay the real living wage to regain the trust of customers and investors alike.”