Sports Direct - investigation reveals harsh working conditions


Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover to investigate the hidden cost of the clothes, shoes, and discounted gear that have helped Sports Direct buck the high street trend, making billions for its elusive owner Mike Ashley – one of Britain’s richest men.

The programme airing tonight (Monday 27th April 2015) reveals:

· Working conditions at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook depot can be harsh:

o Many staff at the depot on zero hours contracts, with a whistleblower saying workers are under the impression they can lose their job from day-to-day

o Some staff named over the warehouse tannoy for not working fast enough

o A ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure. Workers can get strikes for long toilet breaks, excessive chatting and even for having time off for sickness

· On the day of launch, a brand new line of Nike trainers was labelled in store at a reduced sale price

o Consumer law expert says the labeling for these trainers was not following the terms of the government guidelines, which states products have to have been on sale at that price in that store for the previous 28 days

Harsh conditions at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook depot
Channel 4 Dispatches went undercover last year at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook headquarters to find out what working condition were really like.

The Shirebrook depot is the size of 14 football pitches. It’s estimated that only 300 out of the 5,000 plus workers at thisdepot actually have contracts with Sports Direct.

The majority are on zero-hours contracts with one of two employment agencies - Best Connection and Transline.

Shirebrook is a place where warehouse tannoy announcements, in Polish and English, name people for not working fast enough.

Where chatting is banned and where intrusive security check your waistbands, socks and shoes at the end of every shift.

Channel 4 Dispatches spoke anonymously to a number of staff working at the Shirebrook depot.

A current member of staff says: “There’s no happy environment – it’s all miserable, they just want you work faster and faster.

Another former member of staff says: “You work under the impression that you can lose your job from day-to-day.”

Within days of our undercover reporter starting work at the depot his trainer warned him that he’s on a zero-hours contract meaning jobs are far from secure.

Trainer says: “You do have a rota and you do have hours. But tomorrow all of us pickers could get told… There’s no work. And then… On zero-hours. You haven’t got a job. You’re an agency, you’re only as good as the work. You know what I mean.”

Warnings about how fragile employment is at Sports Direct were drip fed to our undercover reporter.

During one shift his trainer said people were being sacked because they weren’t meeting their targets.

Trainer: “Do you know your pick rate?”
Undercover reporter (UR): “My pick rate, no idea. Why?”
Trainer: “Try and keep a good one, they’re sacking people.”
Later in the shift:
Trainer: “They’ve sacked another four people today.”
UR: “Who’s making the decisions? The agency or the…?”
Trainer: Agency.

Six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure
Many of the whistleblowers working at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook depot were very critical of the ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure that both agencies Best Connection and Transline get people to sign up to.

A whistleblower told Channel 4 Dispatches: “After your six strikes you’re out the door – even when people go into work thinking they still got a job – they turn ‘em away and saying sorry, you know, you’ve lost your job.”

The list of what you can get a strike for is long. Some of it could get you into trouble at other factories or large warehouses, but it wouldn’t necessarily lead to you being fired. At Sports Direct, you risk your job for…
- Errors
- Excessive/long toilet breaks
- Excessive chatting
- Poor housekeeping
- Unexplained dead time

At Sports Direct’s Shirebrook depot you can even get a strike for having time off for sickness.

Our reporter was told if you get just half a dozen of the offences on the 36 strong list in six months you’re out.

Trainer says: “Right, it’s very important here, okay. You have to have a clipboard and pen at all time. If you get caught without it, it’s a strike. Six strikes and you lose your job.

One worker told our reporter what people have been sacked for.

The worker says: “Too many strikes. They sacked one...She brought her sick notes in, sacked. Too many strikes. But she brought two sick notes in.”

Now this may have been canteen gossip, but Channel 4 Dispatches obtained a newsletter given to staff in December, which makes it clear being ill at Sports Direct is a disciplinary offence.

It states: “Do not forget, if you take a sick day, you will lose your money, your holiday pay will go down and also you will receive a strike for absence from work.”

A trade union official told Channel 4 Dispatches that Sports Direct go to great lengths to settle employment cases out of court.

Steve Turner from UNITE Trade Union says: “Sports Direct are very astute at keeping their name out of the press so very often you find yourself settling on the way into the court, and then it becomes very difficult then. It’s inevitably enshrined in a confidentiality clause, with an amount of money that the employee themselves, the worker themselves, sees as being beneficial, enough at least to settle the case. And on that basis we can’t then pursue it through the tribunal, we don’t get a precedent, we don’t get to make a public story.

In relation to the strike system, Sports Direct say:

The system, amongst other things, takes into consideration a worker’s time keeping, attendance, sickness, conduct and performance target levels. Where a worker falls below the required standards, the reasons for this will be discussed (including any mitigation) and support and training will be provided.

Where any employee continues to fail to reach these targets, a strike may be issued as a quarter, half or full strike.

Any strike or partial strike issued expires after a six month period.

The system used at Sports Direct is a points system and a worker can have up to 24 strikes on their record within a six month period before they are released from their assignment.

In respect of staff working in our warehouse, Sports Direct provides working conditions in compliance with applicable employment legislation.

Labelling is not following the terms of the guidance
Our reporter visited Sports Directs Lillywhites store in the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus, on launch day for a brand new line of Nike trainers.

On display – even on day they were released – the Nike Flex 2014 Flash trainers appeared to be on sale. The label had a higher, what looked to be an original price of £74.99 struck through, and a new price of £59.99 – making it seem like a bargain.

The Sales Assistant told our reporter that the trainers were first put out that morning. She says: ” … we always reduce most of our shoes when we get them in. So, it’s pretty normal for us to reduce them straightaway.”

£74.99 was the price the trainers had been available at as a pre-order on their website until a day earlier. But government guidelines say they have to have been on sale at that price in that store for the previous 28 days.

If this wasn’t the case, the retailer needs to be explain exactly what that price refers to.

Consumer law expert Deborah Parry says: “It’s quite clear that their labelling is not following the terms of the guidance, they are not providing sufficient information and this could be used in order to establish a breach of the law against them if it could be shown that average consumers are being misled by what is going on and making different decisions about purchasing, visiting the store, dealing with the company, compared to what they would make if they had known the true position.”

In relation to pricing, Sports Direct says:

“Our intention is to provide customers with unbeatable value, not to mislead them.”

“There are many factors which enable us to deliver great prices including (amongst other things): effective sourcing; economies of scale achieved by buying in high volumes; sophisticated and highly efficient logistics; and investment in all the brands we sell.”

The Secrets of Sports Direct – Channel 4 Dispatches, Monday 27th April at 8pm.

Notes to Editors
Press contact: Peter Heneghan, Channel 4 Press office

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