Backlash building against Sports Direct over working conditions

NDET 03-10-12 MC 6'Sports Direct Shirebrook
NDET 03-10-12 MC 6'Sports Direct Shirebrook

A backlash is building against Shirebrook-based Sports Direct after the Chad revealed how a worker collapsed when he was too scared to call in sick.

Readers and politicians have moved to condemn the retail giant’s alleged working conditions at the main headquarters since Mansfield worker Guntars Zarins recently took ill during a shift at the warehouse with a blood clot on his brain.

Dennis Skinner.

Dennis Skinner.

His daughter, Liga, who had also worked at the huge retail operation, said her 52-year-old father feared receiving a ‘strike’ against his name if he had take time off ill.

Guntars, has now been left paralysed and is still very ill at the Queen’s Medical Centre.

Liga, and her partner Kris Shaw, from Kirkby, say that since they have spoken out about the working conditions at the Sports Direct hub, they have had ‘massive’ support.

Kris said: “It’s been incredible, there have been so many people step forward.

“It’s been a brilliant reaction, we’ve had loads of people who have worked there ring us up and tell us their stories.”

Up to 5,000 people are thought to work at the main retail hub.

Like Guntars, most are thought to be on zero-hour contracts supplied through work agencies.

Reports are rife that workers are in fear of being laid off, and are closely scrutinised by factory managers who dish out strikes for petty ‘misdemeanours’.

This can include taking time off sick and being timed during toilet visits.

Following three strikes, a worker is then told they are no longer wanted.

The latest revelations come exactly a year after the company was condemned by politicians and union officials after a pregnant worker gave birth in the toilets at the warehouse.

Despite repeated requests on that occasion, neither Sports Direct or billionaire owner, Mike Ashley, provided any comment.

Following last week’s story, thousands of readers have taken to social media to share their experiences and views.

Comments have been made about the working conditions, described as being ‘damp, dirty and freezing cold’ with concerns over health and safety measures.

One woman said her stepson was even asked to bring in the death certificate for his father so he could be given a day off for the funeral without being reprimanded.

Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner has long campaigned for trade unions to be allowed onto the Shirebrook premises, but says that the company’s refusal to respond to allegations continues to hinder any progress.

Speaking to Chad this week, he said: “I’m not surprised by anything that happens at Sports Direct.

“I’m not allowed anywhere near that factory.

“It stinks to high heaven what is happening there. I’ve been threatened with libel action for what I’ve written in my book about Sports Direct, but I’ve heard nothing.

“I’ve never met Mike Ashley. I have written to him on many occasions and he doesn’t even acknowledge my letters.”

Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero, who is to meet with Guntars Zarins’ family this week, added her support, saying: “Mr Zarins’ story shocked me to the core.

“It is sickening to think that he was too scared to call in sick when he was so ill.

“My heart and thoughts go out to Mr Zarins and his family.

“I’m meeting with his daughter to see how I can help them. I don’t want to see anyone go through what they have had to face over the last few days but they can count on is my full support.

“These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st Century and for too many of its employees it’s a terrible place to work.

“Workers should be treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve and that means dealing with the scandal of zero-hour contracts.”