Ex-Chelsea star accused of JJB strikebreaking

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The Independent Online

A multi-millionaire former Chelsea and Liverpool footballer was accused of breaking the law yesterday by providing workers to undermine a strike by low-paid staff at retailer JJB Sports.

David Speedie, who also played for Scotland, is the co-owner of one of three employment agencies which allegedly provided staff to do the work of about 270 members of the GMB general union. The strikers, who walked out at JJB's central warehouse in Wigan yesterday and intend to stop work again tomorrow, are protesting about an "unfair" wage system whereby only about half the employees are paid bonuses.

Mr Speedie's company, Light Year Recruitment, denied supplying strike breakers, arguing that its workers were performing normal duties.

Sandra Blight, a GMB regional officer, said some of the agency workers who crossed the picket lines had been "abusive" and that the union had recorded the incidents on camera.

Ms Blight said the union had allowed some of its members to go into work to assess the degree to which agency workers were replacing full-time employees.

A GMB spokesman said it is unlawful for employment agencies to supply strike breakers and that the union would see those who supplied such labour "in court". If found guilty, agencies can face fines of up to £5,000 for each person supplied. They can also be sued by strikers for loss of earnings if the strike is prolonged by their actions.

It is understood that management and the union were near a settlement until David Whelan, the founder of JJB, intervened. Mr Whelan took over negotiations from Tom Knight, the group's chief executive, who had allegedly agreed a deal increasing basic wages and giving all employees access to the bonus scheme. Instead Mr Whelan, who has since gone on holiday to Barbados, offered a 3 per cent flat increase, which GMB members rejected.

The union says that many of the strikers earn little more than the minimum wage of £5.35 an hour, but Mr Whelan says with bonus payments, some of them can earn nearly double that.

A spokesman for Light Year Recruitment said it had been supplying staff to JJB for years and that they were undertaking their usual work. JJB was unavailable for comment.