Sports Direct zero-hours case could open floodgates

Campaigners are to lodge a case against Sports Direct. Picture: PA
Campaigners are to lodge a case against Sports Direct. Picture: PA
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RETAIL giant Sports Direct is facing a legal challenge over its use of zero-hours contracts.

Law firm Leigh Day has announced it is launching an employment tribunal case to test the legality of the treatment of the firm’s part-time employees.

All of the part-time staff at the national outlet are said to be on the zero-hours contracts, meaning they are not guaranteed any hours or income each week.

Other companies, including internet giant Amazon, have been under fire over their use of the controversial contracts in recent days.

The law firm, which is working with campaign group 38 Degrees, has brought the legal claim funded by the group’s members through donations.

Elizabeth George, a barrister with the Leigh Day employment team acting for 38 Degrees member Zahera Gabriel-Abraham, from London, said: “We are not arguing that employers cannot have genuine flexible contracts, but the contract under which Ms Gabriel-Abraham worked, and which all Sports 20,000 part-time employees appear to be working, has no flexibility at all for those people who sign them.

“There was no practical difference between the obligations put on my client by the company and those placed on full-time staff.

“Casual workers traditionally supplement an employer’s salaried staff, to be called upon when cover is needed or demand is high. In return for not having the security of knowing when you might work, you have the benefit of being able to choose when you work. Without that choice, you are not a casual worker, you are just a worker with no job security.”

She claimed: “The ‘casual’ part-time employees in this case are employees in the conventional sense and denying them their paid holidays, sick pay and bonuses is unlawful.”

David Babbs, executive director of 38 Degrees, said: “These contracts clearly work in certain circumstances but, in others, are being abused by employers to restrict people’s rights.”

The Office for National Statistics has confirmed that 250,000 UK workers were employed in this way at the end of 2012, including by Buckingham Palace, but studies suggest the number could be four times higher.

Earlier this week, Business Secretary Vince Cable said he was concerned there was “some exploitation” of staff on the contracts which give no guarantees of shifts or work patterns.

Innes Clark, head of employment at Edinburgh law firm Morton Fraser, said: “If the claim is successful, it could result in the employment tribunal ordering that significant back payments should be made to a large number of workers.

“It would result in Sports Direct and many other retailers having to review their employment practices.”

Unions have called for the use of the contracts to be banned due to their unpredictable nature.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: “The vast majority of workers are only on these contracts because they have no choice.

“They may give flexibility to a few, but the balance of power favours the employers and makes it hard for workers to complain.”

The Scotsman has been unable to contact Sports Direct for comment.