SPORTS Direct boss Mike Ashley has admitted that he paid workers below the minimum wage at a warehouse union bosses described as “more like a workhouse”.
Mr Ashley told MPs from the business select committee that security guards at the company’s Shirebrook warehouse held up staff from leaving, meaning they were effectively paid less than the minimum wage.
MPs are investigating working practices at Sports Direct’s warehouse, including poor conditions, the use of controversial zero-hours contracts and payment procedures.
Earlier, MPs heard from the Unite union of a “culture of fear”, with claims that one employee was forced to give birth in a toilet.
The union warned of a “race to the bottom” in working practices, adding abuses were a real “danger to the economy”. Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said conditions at the retail giant’s warehouse in Derbyshire were more like a “workhouse” or “gulag”.
When asked whether it would be better if an independent organisation carried out a review of working conditions at Shirebrook, Mr Ashley said: “I can agree that in some ways I am not the right person because I am not an expert on every area of employment, obviously.”
Responding to concerns over health and safety, Mr Ashley said it was excessive that 110 ambulances were called to the warehouse between 1 January, 2013 and 19 April this year.
He said: “How are people getting injured at Sports Direct? You cannot have that number of serious incidents – it is impossible.”
Mr Ashley also agreed it was unfair that employees are docked pay for being one minute late.
The tycoon pledged to implement a number of changes to working practices within 90 days, promising to write to MPs if the time frame needs to be extended.
When it was put to him that some female employees had endured sexual harassment, Mr Ashley described managers as “sexual predators” who need to be “dealt with”.
Mr Ashley agreed that Sports Direct had become too big for him alone to manage and vowed to review the corporate structure.