UK retail giant Sports Direct employs 90 per cent of its workforce on the basis of “zero-hour contracts”, giving them no guarantee of work from one week to the next.
The “casual” system means 20,000 shop floor workers are expected to be available whenever called-upon, but gives them no rights to sick or holiday pay, notice as to when their hours will be, a minimum number of hours per week, or a bonus at the end of the year.
The extraordinary practice, reported by The Guardian, could account for as much as 10 per cent of all zero-hour contract employees in the whole country. It comes as the 2,000 members of staff who are on full-time contracts received huge bonuses in the form of shares worth up to £100,000.
Then, chief executive Dave Forsey said: “The share scheme glues this company together. These schemes are typically only for the executives, but this goes deep into the company. I'm surprised more businesses haven't adopted something like this sooner.”
Zero-hour contracts have come under fire for being unfair to part-time staff. They work on the basis that employers have a pool of people who are “on call”, and who can be used if and when the need arises.
Last month a group of Labour MPs published a report detailing “the experiences of people working on zero-hour contracts”.
In a foreword, Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Chuka Umunna said: “The use of zero hours contracts has increased markedly in recent years.
“While there are many employees who want extra flexibility at work, there are real concerns relating to the abuse of zero hours contracts, as well as their wider impact on people at work of their increased use.”
An anonymous employee in Liverpool working on these terms was quoted in the report as saying: “The zero hours contract and casual contracts made me feel that all the power was with employer. It’s depressing and demoralising. I feel I have no rights and constantly question ‘why am I even bothering to work?’”
Since 2004, the estimated number of people in the country employed on these terms went up from 89,000 to 200,000, according to the Office of National Statistics.
While Sports Direct could therefore be contributing as many as one in 10 of all examples of the practice, retailers like Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Argos, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer all confirmed to the Guardian that they do not use zero-hour contracts.
The newspaper also reported that the terms of work for those who are on full-time contracts at Sports Direct mean they can be denied bonuses if their performance is deemed “unsatisfactory”.
Alison McGovern, the Labour MP for Wirral South, said: “It seems quite bizarre that a company would on the one hand be awarding bonuses in this way, and treating other staff in a completely different way.
“I would want Sports Direct to see if there is a possibility of more fixed term contracts. It appears this has been imposed across the board and is inappropriate. How can there be any investment in employees, or training or progression?
”Lots of workers in retail start off part-time on the shop floor and rise to the top, but with zero-hour contracts there is no incentive at all.”
Sports Direct declined to comment.