- A total of 20,000 staff don't get guaranteed hours or sick and holiday pay
- If they turn down work, they fear they will not be asked again
- The retailer recently announced large bonuses for full-time staff
More than 20,000 staff at Britain’s biggest sports retailer are employed on controversial ‘zero-hour’ contracts, it emerged yesterday.
Sports Direct hires every part-timer under a deal that denies them holiday or sick pay and cannot guarantee how many hours they will work each week.
Some 90 per cent of workers at 396 stores are now on zero-hour contracts with the company, which is controlled by billionaire founder Mike Ashley.
It comes just weeks after the group announced plans to pay its 2,000 full-time staff bonuses of up to £100,000.
Uncertainty: Some 90 per cent of workers at 396 stores are now on zero-hour contracts with the company
Zero-hour contracts, so-called because they do not set a minimum number of hours that have to be worked, allow employers to draft in extra staff at short notice during busy periods.
Those on the contracts often find themselves unsure if they will have work from one week to the next.
Although they are able to turn down work, many fear that doing so means they will not be asked again in the future.
Employment lawyers warn that the deal makes it difficult to manage family and childcare commitments, and presents problems when budgeting for household bills or trying to secure a mortgage.
The retailer is controlled by billionaire founder Mike Ashley
Yesterday Business Secretary Vince Cable announced an investigation into zero-hour contracts following ‘anecdotal evidence of abuse’ by employers – including those in the public sector. ‘Whilst it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally important that it is treated fairly,’ he said.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has called for the arrangements to be banned altogether.
Sports Direct last night refused to say whether it allows part-time staff to seek other work to boost their income. Meanwhile, a profit-linked bonus programme for permanent staff will next month pay out company shares worth an average of £76,500.
Union Unite has written to Mike Ashley, who also owns Newcastle United football club, calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the treatment of its part-time staff.
The union’s Annmarie Kilcline said: ‘We are seriously concerned that a culture of low pay and poor treatment has embedded itself in at Sport Direct.’
Official figures show that more than 200,000 workers in the UK were employed on zero-hours contracts last year – treble the amount since 2005.
They are increasingly attractive to employers looking to manage flexible demand. But many of Britain’s biggest retailers including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and John Lewis say they do not use the contracts.
More than a quarter of UK firms say it saves them money because they do not have to provide extra arrangements for staff such as pensions.
But a report by think tank the Resolution Foundation found that the benefits of zero-hour contracts for employers come at ‘too high a price’ for those hired on them.
And on its website, the Citizens Advice Bureau says: ‘The problem with zero [hour] contracts is that you are only paid for the time you work, so even if you have to wait on work premises or be at home waiting by the phone, you may not be paid for this waiting time.’
Labour MP Alison McGovern said it was ‘bizarre and inappropriate’ for Sports Direct to treat permanent and part-time staff so differently and called for the firm to offer more fixed-term contracts.