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UK – Sports Direct revealed as largest employer to use zero hours contracts

12 August 2014

According to a report in the Independent newspaper, Sports Direct has been revealed as the biggest employer to use the soon-to-be illegal “zero hour” contracts. The contracts potentially stop 20,000 part-time staff at the sportswear retailer getting a second job, leaving 90% of workers at Sports Direct stores with no guaranteed working hours and must seek permission from management to work elsewhere.

According to the Independent, a leaked copy of a 2012 employment contract from Sports Direct says: "If you wish to undertake any work outside the company, whether paid or unpaid, you should raise the matter with your manager … it may be decided that the additional work would conflict with your duties at Sports Direct.com Retail Limited. You would then be prevented from taking it up." The newspaper understands that this clause remains in current contracts and does not give minimum guaranteed working hours.

Following a consultation, the Government outlined plans to ban exclusivity clauses last month. The policy was described as unfair by Business Secretary Vince Cable. Ministers estimate some 125,000 workers will benefit, meaning Sports Direct staff may account for almost one in six of the entire workforce the Government wants to help.

Campaigners have described the wording as an “exclusivity” clause although it is not known whether Sports Direct enforce the rule. Belinda Turffrey at campaign group 38 Degrees said: “This looks like exclusivity in all but name. Many people on zero hours contracts will be worried about the consequences of asking for permission to work somewhere else, while others run the risk of being turned down entirely.”

Labour MP Alison McGovern, who has written a report on zero hours contracts, also criticised the wording and called on Sports Direct to remove the clause.

She added: “It is clearly exploitative and really unfair, and seems clear they will stop employees working for others if they want to. It also seems extraordinary that they are also prepared to bar people from unpaid work – presumably work experience for career development – which seems totally unfair too.”

Stephen Levinson, Consultant Solicitor at Keystone Law who specialises in employment law, added: “The clause is clever but may be too clever by half.  It avoids a prohibition on working for another or from doing so without consent which is what the [Government] bill bans.

“However the need to seek permission could be construed as an effective prohibition if permission is never or hardly ever granted.  It would then look like the abuse the law is designed to prevent.”

Zero hours contracts are also reportedly used by other companies including McDonalds and Cineworld but Sports Direct is the first to face court action over their use, with an ex-employee taking the company to an employment tribunal later this year.

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