Sports Direct, the UK’s largest sporting retailer, has been forced to revise their hiring practices after legal action brought by a former employee.

Zahera Gabriel-Abrahem left the Croydon branch of Sports Direct in July of last year, after suffering panic attacks due to the oppressive conditions of her employment under a zero-hours contract. The company, which has a stock market value of £3.8 billion, will now have to clearly state in advertisements and to potential employees exactly what the conditions are under their zero-hours contract.

While the number of workers employed in this way has risen in the last few years, zero-hours contracts have attracted a lot of controversy due to the precarious position it puts employees in. With no guaranteed time or minimum hours, workers are often left desperate for any work offered by the company under any circumstances, such as at unusual hours or at very short notice. Even then many do not earn close to the living wage and are denied standard employee provisions. Sick pay is usually not included while holiday pay is supposed to be, but there are many reports that the reality is they have access to neither. Sports Direct employs 20,000 people, of which 17,000 were found by a Labour party investigation to be on a zero-hours contract.

The investigation was part of a recent condemnation of Sports Direct’s employment practices by Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party. In a speech at a party conference in Coventry, Mr Miliband called the company a ‘terrible place to work’ and said its practices were part of the current ‘zero-zero economy – of zero-hours contracts and zero tax for those at the top’.
The action against Sports Direct was decided in an out-of-court settlement, where Sports Direct stated they made no admission of liability at all despite settling. Ms Gabriel-Abrahem said she was very happy that the changes in hiring policy for the company have arrived in time for the Christmas period of hiring.

Some companies have argued that zero-hours contracts are beneficial for both employers and employees, offering them flexibility and work without tying them down to regular hours. However, an exclusivity clause forbids workers to enter similar arrangements with other companies when they have signed a zero-hours contract. This allows an employer to effectively keep a stable of workers on call at all times, while only using them when it is of benefit to the employer with no consideration of the workers.

The conditions imposed against Sports Direct have been warmly welcomed by many legal commentators and campaign groups, but there is still much to be done to secure working conditions for many people in Britain today.

If you are struggling with the conditions of your job due to a zero-hours contract, or other reasons, we can help. Beecham Peacock has a long-standing and trusted relationship with some of the largest trade unions in the country to protect worker’s rights. Contact us today to discover your options.

Philippa Roberts

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