The 7 most shocking testimonies from workers at Sports Direct

The Committee heard a series of accounts of worker mistreatment, including staff being penalised for a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill

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Sports Direct, the British retailing group, has been compared to a “Victorian workhouse” by MPs as they condemned the firm for its appalling work practices.

The Business, Innovation and Skills committee said the retailer was treating workers as “commodities” rather than human beings in 37-page report.

It followed an inquiry into Sports Direct’s treatment of its staff at its shops and warehouses.

Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, gave evidence last month, despite initially refusing to appear in front of MPs

He claimed that he was unaware of these practices but admitted his company has broken the law by falling to pay the national minimum wage to his employees.

Ian Wright MP, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said Ashley should be held accountable for his failings.

“Whistleblowers, parts of the media and a trade union shone a light on work practices at Sports Direct and what they revealed was extremely disturbing. 

“The evidence we heard points to a business whose working practices are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer,” Wright said. 

“For this to occur in the UK in 2016 is a serious indictment of the management at Sports Direct and Mike Ashley, as the face of Sports Direct, must be held accountable for these failings,” he added.

Sports Direct is also under investigation by HMRC for paying workers less than the national minimum wage.

The Committee heard a series of accounts of worker mistreatment, including staff being penalised for matters such as taking a short break to drink water and for taking time off work when ill – the ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy.

Here are the 7 most shocking statements and facts heard by the committee:

1.    Fired when off work and ill

“I was off sick for a few weeks because of ill health. I was sending in sick notes from the doctor. The day I was due to start back to work I received an email laying me off, with no explanation, just paid off and a pay statement.”

2.    Humiliation

-    “Whilst I was there, your pick was timed to the second. If your pick was late you got a strike. But when the aisles are full of other pickers, this is impossible to meet. We still had to suffer humiliation over the Tannoy, with your name called out so that everybody knew.”

Pickers are workers who pick items from the warehouse shelves, which they then place into a metal cage.

-    A female member of staff said she was being forced to talk about her periods publicly (she had been off sick, due to period pains, having regularly worked 12-hour days).

3.    Broken promises

“When the colliery was closed and the town began to suffer, local people were promised 80 per cent of the jobs, but it came to less than 30 per cent, and the majority of jobs went to Eastern European workers.”

4.    Working for free

“I’ve witnessed staff being made to clock out so wages aren’t over budget but they were made to keep working, so they weren’t being paid for all the hours they did. I’ve seen staff kept for an hour after their scheduled finish time to tidy the shop, myself included.”

5.    “Brainwashing”

“Working for Sports Direct is a very love/hate relationship. I think you could call it a form of brainwashing. My area manager would send out an email on Monday mornings with a list of total hours worked by each of his store managers the week before. Whoever did the least would get a lecture—not dedicated, not showing commitment etc. This wouldn’t be a one to one lecture, but a full blown rant with everyone else copied into the email to see. If you weren’t doing at least 55 hours a week then you weren’t doing enough.”

6.    Zero-hours contracts

Staff on zero-hour contracts were being forced to work a further three hours without pay. If they refused, they would not be offered any hours the following day.

7.    Health and safety issues

A total of 110 ambulances or paramedic cars were dispatched to the Shirebrook warehouse’s postcode between 1 January 2013 and 19 April 2016 with 50 cases classified as “life-threatening”, including chest pain, breathing problems, convulsions, fitting and strokes, and five calls from women suffering pregnancy difficulties, including one woman who gave birth in the toilet in the warehouse.

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There were 115 incidents from 1 January 2010 to 19 April 2016, including an amputation of a finger, a fractured neck, a crushed hand, and hand, wrist, back and head injuries. 

Twelve of the incidents were listed as “major” injuries, with 79 injuries leading to absences from work of over seven days