Working Conditions at Sports Direct September 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding working conditions at Sports Direct [and the related War on Want/Unite campaign].
I too was shocked at the reported employment practices at Sports Direct and I agree that precarious contracts create the conditions in which these practices can occur. Indeed, it was for this reason that at the 2015 general election I stood on a manifesto which included a commitment to ban exploitative zero-hours contracts.
As you may be aware, the House of Commons Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee recently published a report on this issue. The Committee heard evidence that Sports Direct's workers were not being paid the national minimum wage, and were penalised for matters such as taking short breaks to drink water or time off work when ill. The Committee also heard allegations of workers being promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours, as well as of serious health and safety breaches. The Committee concluded that Sports Direct's business model allows its workers to be treated without dignity or respect. It called for Sports Direct to hold an independent review into its corporate governance and also stated that Sports Direct's founder and majority shareholder Mike Ashley must be held accountable for some appalling working practices.
I agree that Sports Direct needs a major change in its culture and working practices. However, I believe the Government must also take its share of responsibility for failing to protect people from systematic exploitation. For example, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate has had its funding cut by over half since 2010 and has failed to bring a single prosecution in the past year. It should be easier and more affordable for workers to bring cases of exploitation and discrimination to employment tribunals. The Government should also ban exploitative zero-hours contracts and stop unscrupulous employers from undermining good businesses which do right by their staff.
The Government must also act to enforce the minimum wage. As you may be aware, Sports Direct has agreed a deal with HMRC and the Unite union for Sports Direct workers to receive around £1 million in back pay. I welcome this deal as a great victory for everyone who has campaigned on this issue. However, Sports Direct got away with paying below the minimum wage for far too long. In fact, while an estimated 250,000 workers or more are not being paid the legal minimum, in the last Parliament it was revealed that only nine firms had been charged for breaching minimum wage legislation. I therefore also believe we need more minimum wage inspectors to catch and prosecute rogue employers. I am pleased that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have committed to end the exploitation of working people, tackle low pay and protect people's rights in the workplace.
Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views on this important issue. I can assure you that I will continue to press the Government to end exploitative zero-hours contracts, tackle insecurity at work and enforce minimum wage legislation.