• A total of  20,000 staff don’t get guaranteed hours or sick and holiday  pay
  • If they  turn down work, they fear they will not be asked again
  • The  retailer recently announced large bonuses for full-time staff

More than 20,000 staff at Britain’s biggest  sports retailer are employed on controversial ‘zero-hour’ contracts, it emerged  yesterday.

Sports Direct hires every part-timer under a  deal that denies them holiday or sick pay and cannot guarantee how many hours  they will work each week.

Some 90 per cent of workers at 396 stores are  now on zero-hour contracts with the company, which is controlled by billionaire  founder Mike Ashley.

It comes just weeks after the group announced  plans to pay its 2,000 full-time staff bonuses of up to £100,000

Zero-hour contracts, so-called because they  do not set a minimum number of hours that have to be worked, allow employers to  draft in extra staff at short notice during busy periods.

Those on the contracts often find themselves  unsure if they will have work from one week to the next.

Although they are able to turn down work,  many fear that doing so means they will not be asked again in the  future.

Employment lawyers warn that the deal makes  it difficult to manage family and childcare commitments, and presents problems  when budgeting for household bills or trying to secure a mortgage.

The retailer is controlled by billionaire founder Mike  Ashley

Yesterday Business Secretary Vince Cable  announced an investigation into zero-hour contracts  following ‘anecdotal  evidence of abuse’ by employers – including those in the public sector. ‘Whilst  it’s important our workforce remains flexible, it is equally  important  that it is treated fairly,’ he said.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Andy Burnham  has called for the arrangements to be banned altogether.

Sports Direct last night refused to say  whether it allows part-time staff to seek other work to boost their income.  Meanwhile, a profit-linked bonus programme for permanent staff will next month  pay out company shares worth an average of £76,500.

Union Unite has written to Mike Ashley, who  also owns Newcastle United football club, calling for an urgent meeting to  discuss the treatment of its part-time staff.

The union’s Annmarie Kilcline said: ‘We are  seriously concerned that a culture of low pay and poor treatment has embedded  itself in at Sport Direct.’

Official figures show that more than 200,000  workers in the UK were employed on zero-hours contracts last year – treble the  amount since 2005.

They are increasingly attractive to employers  looking to manage flexible demand. But many of  Britain’s biggest retailers  including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and John Lewis say they do not use  the contracts.

More than a quarter of UK firms say it saves  them money because they do not have to provide extra arrangements for staff such  as pensions.

But a report by think tank the Resolution  Foundation found that the benefits of zero-hour contracts for employers come at  ‘too high a price’ for those hired on them.

And on its website, the Citizens Advice  Bureau says: ‘The problem with zero [hour] contracts is  that you are only  paid for the time you work, so even if you have to wait on work premises or be  at home waiting by the phone, you may not be paid for this waiting time.’ 

Labour MP Alison McGovern said it was  ‘bizarre and inappropriate’ for Sports Direct to treat permanent and part-time  staff so differently and called for the firm to offer more fixed-term  contracts.–theyll-earn.html

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