Mike Ashley, the Chief Executive of Sports Direct, has admitted to paying workers less than minimum wage. The admission came while he was being questioned by MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills House of Commons select committee.
He recognised that for a ″specific time″ workers were effectively paid less than minimum wage due to the practice of keeping workers after their shift to be searched before they were allowed to leave.
He is now saying he will pay back pay to those workers effected.
This is a huge win for an energetic campaign by the union Unite and others, and campaign which involved actions such as a displaying a huge banner reading ″#SportsDirectShame″ at a Newcastle United Football Club game (NUFC is owned by Ashley). Unite gave hard hitting evidence to the select committee. Luke Primarolo, a regional officer at Unite, said there was a culture of fear at Sports Direct’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire. “People are scared because they are working under a system when they know they could lose their employment at any moment.”
Unite has found that there has been 110 ambulance callouts to the warehouse in Shirebrook, including 38 incidents of workers complaining of chest pains. Five ambulances had been called to Sports Direct’s warehouse for birth and miscarriage related matters, including for one worker who gave birth in the toilets.
Unite is continuing it campaign against Sports Direct as Ashley has not yet been made to fundamentally change anything in his warehouses. On 13 June, activists staged a street theatre protest in Chesterfield — Dick Turpin on his horse turned up to steal Sports Direct workers’ wages. This campaign has brought to light Sports Direct′s abuse of workers and has turned public opinion against them.
Sports Direct′s shares are now in freefall, but a collapse of the business will not help those workers in Shirebrook and other warehouses. Hopefully workers in the warehouses will be given confidence by these protests to organise unions to protect their rights long term and go on the offensive against their vile boss.