Sports Direct under fire over zero hours contracts

Christmas Fair 26-11-2010Sports Direct is coming under pressure from politicians and unions to ditch ‘zero hours’ contracts, following revelations in the Guardian that 20,000 staff are subject to the controversial arrangements.

The retailer, which is run by billionaire Mike Ashley, has been feted for its forward-thinking share ownership scheme, under which 2,000 permanent employees will each enjoy on average a £76,500 windfall.

However, it has emerged that the number of people on so-called zero hours contracts is far higher than those who will benefit from the profit-linked scheme.

While such contracts mean businesses can draft staff in at short notice, they effectively pass risks to employees, who do not know how much they will be paid in advance and often find it difficult to budget and plan. Although they are able to turn down work, in practice many say this places them at a disadvantage when it comes to being offered future shifts.

Official estimates are that 200,000 people are on zero hours contracts in the UK and 38% of those are under 25. They are used mainly by low-skilled food and services industries as well as increasingly in the NHS and education sectors.

Last month business secretary Vince Cable said he had asked officials to look into the use of zero hours contracts, which are also used by parliament, over concerns that they are unfair. The investigation is due to report after parliament’s summer recess.

In the meantime, unions are demanding meetings with Ashley to discuss the use of contracts and complaints over workers being searched at an East Midlands factory.

Unite regional secretary Annmarie Kilcline said: “We hope Mike Ashley will sit down with Unite to discuss how the treatment of workers at Sports Direct can be improved. Sports Direct is a major UK company, success must be shared and workers must be treated with dignity.”

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mdpettitt/

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