Britain’s largest union, Unite urged the highly profitable Sports Direct to clampdown on ‘Victorian’ work practices today (Friday 7 August), as it submitted a pay claim on behalf of workers at its Shirebrook headquarters and warehouse in Derbyshire.

The union, which represents permanent warehouse workers on the site, is calling on Sports Direct to move zero hours agency workers onto permanent contracts and pay the real living wage of £7.85 per hour.

Unite estimates that only 300 out of the 3,000 plus workers at the Shirebrook depot actually have permanent contracts with Sports Direct with the majority on zero hour contracts with two employment agencies – Best Connection and Transline.

Working conditions in depot are underpinned by a ‘six strikes and you’re out’ disciplinary procedure which have been described as ‘draconian’ and likened to a ‘workhouse’ by the union. Under the procedure agency workers can get ‘strikes’ for taking too long in the toilet, talking too much or even having time off for sickness.

With latest figures for the Sports Direct showing a 7.4 per cent increase in gross profit to £1.155 billion, the union warned the retailer that it couldn’t plead poverty and needed to start weaning itself of its addiction to low paid zero hours work.

Over 70 per cent of the workers in stores across the UK are on a low paid zero hours contract, according to latest estimates.

Commenting Unite regional officer Luke Primarolo said: “Agency workers on zero hour contracts are being subjected to working conditions at Sports Direct that are more akin to a workhouse than a FTSE 100 company.

“These Victorian era work practices where workers eke out minimum wage living in constant fear of losing their job have no place in 21st Britain.

“Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct is generating massive profits and can well afford to wean itself off a business model built on low pay and exploitative zero hours contracts.

“It’s time for Sports Direct to restore dignity and security at work by paying the real living wage and putting staff on permanent contracts.”