Miliband turns his fire on Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct over zero hour contracts

Labour leader Ed Miliband is to turn his fire on Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct chain, in a major speech attacking “zero hour” contracts.

Mr Miliband will accuse the chain of “Victorian practices” in the way it treats staff.

And he will highlight plans to change the law – so that workers with regular shifts have the legal right to a regular contract, if Labour wins the next election.

It comes as the Labour leader continues his fightback following reports that some MPs had concerns about his leadership of the party.

Earlier this week he delivered a speech pledging to stand up to “vested interests”, to ensure hard work was rewarded and to stamp down on tax avoidance by the very wealthy.

Today he is set to focus particularly on zero hours contracts, in which work is not guaranteed and staff are called in as needed.

Mr Miliband is to say:

“A graphic symbol of what is wrong with the way this country is run is the army of people working on zero-hours contracts with no security while a few people at the top get away with paying zero tax.

“This zero-zero economy shows we live in a deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust country run for a few at the top, not for most people. It is a country I am determined to change.”

And he will highlight Sports Direct, which has 400 stores and is estimated to have 17,000 people on zero hours contracts.

“Sports Direct has thousands of its employers on zero-hours contracts, the vast majority of its workforce.

“Sports Direct has predictable turnover, it is a modern company with stores on many high streets and, judging by its success, where many people shop.

“But for too many of its employees, Sports Direct is a bad place to work.

“This is not about exceptional use of zero-hours contracts for short term or seasonal work which some employers and workers may find convenient. This is the way Sports Direct employs the vast majority of its workforce.

“These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st Century.”

Mr Miliband will set out plans to legislate to give employees the legal right to a regular contract if they are working regular hours; to refuse demands that they are available over and above their contracted hours, and to compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice.

An inquiry commissioned by Labour and conducted by businessman Norman Pickavance, former HR & Communications director at supermarket chain Morrisons, reported earlier this year:

Sports Direct has expanded dramatically since 2008 and gained a large share of the sports retail market. About 17,000 of their 20,000 strong staff are employed on zero-hours contracts.”

Last month the firm said it would make its employment terms clearer in job adverts for zero-hours posts, following legal action brought by a former employee.

Mr Ashley, an entrepreneur who built up his business from a single sports shop in Maidenhead, bought a majority share in the club in 2007.

Meanwhile, controversial payday lender Wonga has agreed with Newcastle United to remove its logo from all children’s replica shirts and training wear from the 2016/17 season.

Wonga said it followed a review of its marketing launched by new chairman Andy Haste in July to ensure that none of it could inadvertently appeal to the very young or vulnerable.

It has already ended its puppet advertising campaign.

The company said the logo was being removed from children’s kit at the earliest possible opportunity, and that due to kit production schedules this would be from the start of the 2016/17 season – the last season of the current shirt sponsorship deal.

Darryl Bowman, Wonga marketing director said: “As a responsible lender we believe removing our logo from children’s replica shirts and training wear is the right thing to do. We appreciate the club’s support in this matter.”

Newcastle United managing director Lee Charnley said: “We understand and respect Wonga’s position and are happy to support their decision.”

Source –  Newcastle Evening Chronicle,  15 Nov 2014

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