Employee Engagement

Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley has said he will not attend a parliamentary select committee to discuss the treatment of his workforce insisting that he would not “stand idle” while the company is “subjected to public vilification”.

Mr Ashley has been summoned to appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee following criticism of working practices at the company’s warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.

He said: “I do not pretend to get everything right all of the time, but I am not willing to stand idle while this company is subjected to public vilification which is against the best interests of everybody who works at Sports Direct.

“My current intention is that I will not attend Westminster on June 7 as I believe the proposal by Iain Wright (whom I have offered to meet in Shirebrook) is an abuse of the parliamentary process.

“If they genuinely cared, they could genuinely come and see it for themselves. They can come to Sports Direct Shirebrook 365 days a year, we will make ourselves available. Sports Direct has nothing to hide.”

The committee has been seeking to question Mr Ashley about working practices at his Shirebrook warehouse, including reports of poor working conditions and the use of controversial zero-hours contracts.

In his letter sent earlier this month, Mr Wright, the chairman of the committee, warned if Mr Ashley failed to agree a date to give evidence, the committee reserved the right to take the matter further “including seeking the support of the House of Commons in respect of any complaint of contempt”.

Mr Ashley reiterated an offer made to the committee that representatives could come and visit the warehouse in Shirebrook and accused them of “showboating”.

He said: “You will have to apologise once you have been here.

“The current intention is not to go because they ought to come here and see it for themselves. They would make a more informed decision if they are able to see it themselves.

“They clearly don’t care about the people at Sports Direct. In my opinion, they are just showboating. In my opinion, they are actually a joke.

“They don’t care about people, they care about the business of politics. I actually care about the people at Sports Direct so I care that they are forced to come.”

Sports Direct has been heavily criticised for its use of zero-hours contracts, under which staff do not know how many hours they will work from one week to the next.

But Mr Ashley said no workers at the Shirebrook warehouse are employed on this type of contract, and that they are used in stores “as a flexible and progressive way of creating retail jobs”.

The company was accused of paying staff below the minimum wage in December, with an article in the Guardian alleging it forces compulsory unpaid searches, taking around 15 minutes, on staff as they leave.

Mr Ashley said the company had worked to improve bottlenecks in security searches.

He said: “With the new phase of the warehouse opening up, the exits in the building are something like ten times the size they were before.

“Where we used to have just one in and out (and) you would have 1,000 people trying to come in and 1,000 people trying to get out, you now have two completely different levels and a footbridge.

“You can now process people in literally a couple of minutes.”

He added that £10 million had been spent on ensuring agency and staff workers at Sports Direct were paid above the National Minimum Wage, and that employees older than 25 will be paid above the National Living Wage.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite, said: “Mike Ashley’s belligerent attitude to our democratically elected MPs is extraordinary and his attempts to brush off abusive work practices through bluster and insults is shameful.

“Over 3,000 agency workers are employed by Sports Direct through Transline and The Best Connection in conditions which workers have likened to a gulag.

“If Mike Ashley is so confident that he has nothing to hide then he should have nothing to fear from appearing in front of MPs.”

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