Trades unions, their members and Thompsons Solicitors are celebrating this week after a successful campaign to end zero hours contracts at the controversial Sports Direct.
The furore over Sports Direct began when USC, a Sports Direct-controlled entity went into administration on 14 January 2015, making all 200 warehouse staff redundant with 15 minutes notice.
On the back of this Thompsons Solicitors raised a claim for a “protective award” on behalf of 50 employees based at the USC warehouse in Dundonald, Ayrshire. The claim was for a payment of money – a punishment effectively for USC’s failure to consult with their workers regarding the upcoming redundancy situation. Instead USC knowingly ran the company in to the ground, preventing workers receiving their contractual notice pay and arrears of pay.
The claim was successful and 90 days pay was paid out to each worker.
But this was only the start.
USC is owned by Mike Ashley, also the owner of Sports Direct. Sports Direct have become infamous for their use of zero hours contracts and questionable working conditions for staff.
A zero hours contract is a contract of employment where there are no guaranteed hours. The reality of this is that workers do not know what hours the will be working week to week. They have no guarantee of any hours. A down turn in business, your hours are likely to be cut. A manager takes a dislike to you and you can be given no hours the next week. On the contrary during the busy times employees can be requested to work ridiculous hours, continuous overtime and long shifts. With management playing staff off against each other and dishing out hours, as favours, while turning the workplace into their own little fiefdoms.
Zero hours contracts are not illegal. Ed Milliband MP, when he was Labour Leader, pledged in the run up to the 2015 General Election that, if elected, he would ban them. The Tories are, of course, not interested in such legislation to protect the rights of workers.
This week Sports Direct have announced that they are scrapping zero hours contracts and will, from now on offer staff guaranteed hours per week. There is however concern about how many hours staff will be offered, with concern that this will be minimal. Additionally this offer of guaranteed hours for shop employees does not extend to the 4,000 agency workers at its depot.
However, despite the reservations this would not have happened without the incredible amount of work which has done by trades unions, their members, campaign groups and wider supporters on the left.
The campaign must go on though. After the Sports Direct news the Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported this week that there has been a huge rise – 21% - in the number of zero hours contracts with the comparable period last year.
Sports Direct show that relentless single issue campaigning can work and similar results could be seen in other workplaces. If you are not a member of union – join your workplace union today and start the fight to collectively raise terms and conditions in your workplace, and be part of getting rid of the zero hours contracts once and for all.