Unite secures minimum wage victory for Sports Direct workers

Thousands of workers at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire are set to receive back pay totalling an estimated £1 million for non-payment of the minimum wage, Britain’s largest union, Unite, announced today (Monday 15 August).

96 per cent of Unite members directly employed by Sports Direct at Shirebrook backed the deal secured by Unite. The payments, back dated to May 2012 for direct employees and agency workers, cover unpaid searches at the end of shifts and could be worth up to £1,000 for some workers, the union estimates.

Workers directly employed by Sports Direct and through the employment agency The Best Connection are expected to start receiving the back pay in full towards the end of August.

However, Unite understands that as many as 1,700 Transline agency workers at the site may only initially receive half the back pay they are owed. This is due to Transline’s refusal to honour its commitments from when it took over from Blue Arrow at Shirebrook two years ago.

The back pay follows an admission by retail tycoon Mike Ashley of non-payment of the minimum wage at a recent hearing of the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BiS) select committee. The hearing followed a sustained campaign by Unite and undercover reports by the Guardian and the BBC’s Inside Out team.

Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, said: “This is a significant victory in Unite’s ongoing campaign to secure justice and dignity at work for workers at Sports Direct and 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. 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.”

Transline and The Best Connection supply over 3,000 agency workers to work for Sports Direct in its Shirebrook warehouse. In 2014, Transline was stripped of its license to supply labour to the food industry.

Both Transline and The Best Connection were warned of being in contempt of parliament and lying when the BiS committee recently published its report into employment practices at Sports Direct.

On the use of employment agencies, Unite assistant general secretary, Steve Turner, went on to warn: “Mike Ashley and the Sports Direct board should be under no illusions. 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.”

Unite is urging shareholders to back a resolution at Sports Direct’s annual general meeting for an independent review into work practices at the retailer.