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Sports Direct 'identifies staff by fingerprint’ after asking them to press happy or sad face emoji

Workers rate practices at the company on a touchpad when they start their shift in a system described by the Unite union as ‘bogus’ because it is reportedly not anonymous

Jeff Farrell
Saturday 02 September 2017 16:23 BST
Mike Ashley, owner of Sport Direct which is keen on feedback from staff
Mike Ashley, owner of Sport Direct which is keen on feedback from staff (PA)

Sports Direct is asking warehouse staff to press a happy or sad face emoji on a touchpad to tell them how they’re feeling when they clock in – management can then identify and question them if they are disgruntled, a trade union has claimed.

The leisurewear company is said to to identify employees by their fingerprints when they give a negative response on the touchpad when they start their shifts, and ask them to explain their grievance.

It is understood that the company introduced the unusual rating system after so-called “gulag” style conditions were highlighted last year at its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.

The Unite trade union described the rating method as “bogus” because it was not anonymous, saying workers would not honestly say how they feel over fear of losing their job.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said in a statement: “Put yourself in their shoes. Would you risk being called in by management because you indicated dissatisfaction with your work environment?

“It’s nothing short of an emoji con and a bogus exercise to gloss over past failures and some of the problems which still persist in the warehouse.

“Sports Direct still has a long way to go to clean its act up and risks the charge of ‘business as usual’ until it makes temporary agency workers direct permanent employees.”

Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the work and pensions select committee, said that employees should not be identified when they take part in the unorthodox survey.

“All it will reveal is how brave some staff are,” he told The Guardian. “We ought to extend it to MPs and see how they feel about Sports Direct.”

The company did not deny the emoji staff rating system was in place. A spokesperson told The Independent: ”Yes we have feedback measures that are similar although it has been misrepresented.”

The spokesperson also criticised Unite and added that Sports Direct had a number of platforms through which its employees could rate the conditions at the company.

They said: “We believe these comments by Unite do not accurately reflect the position at Sports Direct. In reality we have a range of different measures in place to protect staff.

“These include a comprehensive system for staff to provide detailed feedback via an initiative called ‘Your Company, Your Voice’, plus a workers’ representative who attends meetings of the board.”

Sports Direct also had a “staff Listening Group, a staff Health & Safety Committee and a staff Wellbeing Service”.

It added: “Whilst we are disappointed with Unite’s stance we will continue to engage with the union, and we recently contacted Unite on this basis.”

The Independent contacted Unite for further comment but it did not immediately respond.

MPs last year criticised “Victorian workhouse” conditions at Sports Direct – owned by tycoon Mike Ashley – in an investigation over claims the company was paying staff less than minimum wage.

The firm later agreed to give casual guaranteed hours instead of zero hours contracts and ensure all warehouse staff are paid above the national minimum wage. But the reforms did not apply to hundreds of agency staff.

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