I have watched with anticipation, slight dismay and disbelief how Sports Direct got away with paying less than minimum wage. As it transpires the non payment of employees and temporary staff during the time it took them to clock in and be searched; coupled with the non-payment for their queuing time at the end of their shift to get through security again meant that their actual hours in the building divided by their actual payment for this time resulted in an hourly rate less than that of national minimum wage. The hearing also brought about the publication (on twitter thanks to @itvjoel https://t.co/OrbcIpjlC4 ) of the ‘6 strikes and you’re out’ policy which uncovered that employees could find themselves receiving a strike for long toilet breaks, wearing branded clothes and being off sick!
You would be forgiven for throwing the book at the occasionally hapless, confused, deluded and sporadically self-depricating Mike Ashley were it not for the cluelessness of his demeanor – the tycoon offered the investigating panel his helicopter for the day! In my opinion they were questioning the wrong person if they wished to uncover the extent of cost cutting, labour saving and profit maximising activities at Sports Direct. To me Mike Ashley came across as the figurehead who had lost all sense of how his business runs. By no means is this an excuse, he just didn’t grow at the same rate as his creation.
Mike, in essence appears greedy and he has instilled this in those leaders he surrounds himself with. I have no doubt that he didn’t ask about HR practices, he doesn’t even mention HR once during his questioning. He went with a cheap but powerful couple of employment agencies with cost saving implications and without thinking it through and nurtured the Sports Direct culture accordingly. I read of tannoy announcements made at the warehouse humiliating those workers who appeared not to be pulling their weight, a culture of bullying, and fear that working patterns would be reduced for those who were off sick. Unite compiled a most damming report with close to the line working practices.
So here begs the question…. Where was HR? Where were those professionals who were looking to build the company on the strength of its human capital? Were they asleep? The most frightening question that I asked myself was…. Were they in on this? Outsourcing responsibility as well as duty of care. Outsourcing blame also? Yet capitalising on the success of the company’s growth.
I am well aware that HR in a retail environment is different. Staff turnover in all retail is higher than in my industry, the pay is lower and so approaches need to be dissimilar. That said, the employment of temporary staff on 366 day a year contracts so that they just miss the threshold for cover under the Employment Rights Act does seem a step too far! I will be watching this story as more unfolds. My fear is that these types of practice are uncovered as industry norms (as alluded to by Unite in their report) and that this is just a taster of the revelations to come.
Please do let me know your thoughts on this. Thank you as ever for taking the time to read this and please feel free to share! Best Wishes Natalie.