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From: The Socialist issue 911, 27 July 2016: No compromise with Labour right

Search site for keywords: Trade unions - Union - Trade union - Workers - Zero-hour contracts - Minimum wage - Housing - EU - living wage - Unions - Cleaners - Health and safety - Strike

End Victorian working conditions

Trade union fightback needed

Protest outside Sports Direct HQ, September 2015, photo Elaine Evans

Protest outside Sports Direct HQ, September 2015, photo Elaine Evans   (Click to enlarge)

An MPs' report has accused retailer Sports Direct of being run like a 'Victorian workhouse' with appalling rights and pay for workers. But victories by cleaners working in the City of London who won the living wage after 43 days of strike action and a walkout by HMRC workers in Merseyside over pay, show the way to fight back. Dave Gorton looks at Sports Direct below:

The report into Sports Direct's working practices by a House of Commons select committee shows the much acclaimed protection of workers' employment rights by the EU is worthless without the traditional workers' organisations - the trade unions - being strong enough to enforce legislation.

The company treated workers "as commodities rather than as human beings" and working practices at its Shirebrook base in north Derbyshire "are closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable High Street retailer."

The irregularities or allegations include paying staff below the minimum wage; a 'six strikes' policy giving "management unreasonable and excessive powers to discipline or dismiss at will"; an employee giving birth in a toilet at the warehouse because she feared losing her job if she called in sick and some workers being promised permanent contracts in exchange for sexual favours.

Workers without a bank account are given pre-paid debit cards to which their wages are paid. They are charged a 10 one-off fee, a monthly management fee of 10 and 75p for cash withdrawals.

Over 90% of the workforce are employed on zero-hour contracts - legitimate under EU regulations - and often scared to seek help and fight back.

This insecurity is worsened as huge numbers of the workforce are Polish or east European who have been thrust into the area with little assistance in terms of housing or settling in.

The local Labour councils have done little to ease this situation and appear out of their depth in even beginning to tackle the issues of housing, employment and services.

Unite has begun to try and unionise the workforce at Sports Direct and they have done some excellent work in bringing this scandal into the public arena. But more needs to be done by the labour movement in the area.

The Socialist Party calls for an end to zero-hour contracts; a full 10 an hour minimum wage for all workers at the warehouse; workers to be given permanent contracts not subcontracted by agencies and regular health and safety checks.







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