Sports Direct bosses in zero-hours transparency deal
Looming threat of tribunal forces company to draw up new code for job ads and employee rights
Retail chain Sports Direct has agreed to overhaul its employment practices for zero-hours staff, in efforts to quash a full-scale tribunal that was set to take place next month. The firm’s action has come in response to proceedings brought by former zero-hours worker Zahera Gabriel-Abraham, who had claimed that uncertainty over holidays and sick pay had led her to suffer panic attacks.
In a statement issued by Ms Gabriel-Abraham’s lawyers Leigh Day, it was confirmed that Sports Direct would have to:
1. Rewrite its job adverts and employment contracts for future zero-hours staff to expressly state that the roles do not guarantee work
2. Produce clear written policies setting out what sick pay and paid holiday its zero-hours staff are entitled to
3. Display copies of the new policies in all staff rooms used by zero-hours staff across its 400-plus UK stores
4. Send copies of its Equal Opportunities policy to all store managers and assistant managers, with a written reminder that the policy and principles apply to zero-hours staff
Leigh Day barrister Elizabeth George, who represented Ms Gabriel-Abraham’s claims of sex discrimination, unfair treatment and breach of holiday rights, said: “Sports Direct continues to deny any wrongdoing or shortfalls in its treatment of zero-hours workers, but Zahera and many more of the company’s zero-hours staff will tell you differently.
“Zero-hours workers are not second-class workers. They have the right to be treated fairly and with respect. They have the right to take holidays and to be paid when they take them. They have the right to statutory sick pay. They have a right to request guaranteed hours. Sports Direct will now have to make that crystal clear to staff. By doing so, the risk of those rights being ignored or misunderstood by managers will be significantly reduced in the future.”
George added that the changes Ms Gabriel-Abraham had spurred will ensure total transparency for prospective employees about what kind of contracts they are about to sign up to. “That has to be right when you are talking about jobs that don’t guarantee people work,” she argued. “Lack of transparency was one of the key concerns identified by the government in its recent investigation into zero-hours contracts. The government chose not to make transparency mandatory. This settlement means that it is now mandatory for Sports Direct.”
She also warned: “The fact that these promises are in the public domain is also very important. It means that if Sports Direct does not do what it has promised to do, it will be held to account.”
Not that the prospect of accountability appeared to ruffle the retail chain itself. In a statement of its own, the company said: “Sports Direct confirms that we have reached a settlement with Ms Gabriel-Abraham. The settlement is without any admission of any liability on the part of Sports Direct whatsoever.
“It was clear from the proceedings that we and Ms Gabriel-Abraham felt equally strongly about our respective positions, and that each had different perceptions of the events that took place. The company will continue the process of reviewing, updating and improving our core employment documents and procedures across our entire business beyond its existing compliant framework.”
Despite the chain’s refusal to accept liability Ms Gabriel-Abraham was delighted with the early settlement. “I feel really pleased with what has been agreed,” she said. “I started the legal action because I felt strongly, not just about my own treatment, but about the treatment of many other zero-hours employees.”
She added: “The new job advertisements will mean that people will not find themselves in a situation where what you think are getting isn’t what you actually get. It was really important to me that these changes happened before the company’s Christmas recruitment round, and that has been achieved. Sports Direct will always need a minimum number of people working at their stores and warehouses. I don’t understand why it insists on not giving those people the basic security of guaranteed hours. That practice will now have to be properly justified in response to anyone requesting that their hours be set.”
For more on factors that are forcing managers to change the way they operate, check out the details on the forthcoming CMI Scotland Conference 2014.
Image of Sports Direct store courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.