Photo credit: Martin Pettitt via photopin cc

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Sports Direct have been forced to agree major changes to their zero-hours contracts policy, in response to a legal challenge from a former employee.

Former employee Zahera Gabriel-Abraham brought a legal challenge against Sports Direct, aimed at securing better working rights and equal opportunities for its 20,000 strong workforce.

The legal challenge was scheduled to be heard in court in November 2014, but the retailer agreed to a legal settlement with lawyers representing Ms Gabriel-Abraham.

Zero-hours contracts often provide workers with no guarantee of hours and come with less working rights that other forms of employment.

Sport Direct have agreed to:

  • Re-write their job adverts and employment contracts for future zero hours staff to expressly state that the roles do not guarantee work
  • Produce clear written policies setting out what sick pay and paid holiday their zero hours staff are entitled to
  • Display copies of the new policies in all staff rooms used by zero hours staff across its 400 plus stores in the UK
  • Send copies of their Equal Opportunities policy to all store managers and assistant managers with a written reminder that the policy and principles apply to zero hours staff.

Elizabeth George, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represented Ms Gabriel-Abraham in her claim against Sports Direct for sex discrimination, unfair treatment and breach of holiday rights, said:

“Sports Direct continue to deny any wrong doing or short-falls in their treatment of zero hours workers but Zahera and many more of the company’s zero hours staff will tell you differently.

“Zero hours workers are not second class workers. They have the right to be treated fairly and with respect. They have the right to take holidays and to be paid when they take them. They have the right to statutory sick pay. They have a right to request guaranteed hours. Sports Direct will now have to make that crystal clear to staff.

“By doing so the risk of those rights being ignored or misunderstood by managers will be significantly reduced in the future.

“The changes that Zahera has achieved mean that there will now be total transparency about what sort of contract is on offer. That has to be right when you are talking about jobs that don’t guarantee people work.

“Lack of transparency was one of the key concerns identified by the Government in its recent investigation into zero hours contracts. The Government chose not to make transparency mandatory. This settlement means that it is now mandatory for Sports Direct.

“The fact that these promises are in the public domain is also very important. It means that if Sports Direct do not do what they have promised to do – they will be held to account.

“Taking on a company in this way is daunting. Taking on a company this size is doubly daunting. Zahera should feel very proud of what she has achieved”.

photo credit: Martin Pettitt via photopin cc
photo credit: Martin Pettitt via photopin cc

Ms Gabriel-Abraham said:

“I feel really pleased with what has been agreed. I started the legal action because I felt strongly, not just about my own treatment, but about the treatment of many other zero hours employees.

“The new job advertisements will mean that people will not find themselves in a situation where what you think are getting isn’t what you actually get. It was really important to me that these changes happened before the company’s Christmas recruitment round and that has been achieved.

“Sports Direct will always need a minimum number of people working at their stores and warehouses. I don’t understand why it insists on not giving those people the basic security of guaranteed hours. That practice will now have to be properly justified in response to anyone requesting that their hours be set.

“I was told that if I took holidays I would not get holiday pay. The steps agreed under the settlement mean that that will not happen in the future. Future zero hours staff will have a written statement clearly setting out their holiday rights as part of a proper induction and these policies will also be displayed in every staff rooms. The same with sick pay rights”.

Leigh Day say the steps agreed in relation to the company’s job advertisements will apply from 25 November 2014. All other changes have to be completed by the Company by no later than 25 February 2015.

A spokesperson for Sports Direct said: “Sports Direct confirms that we have reached a settlement with Ms Gabriel-Abraham.

“The settlement is without any admission of any liability on the part of Sports Direct whatsoever.

“It was clear from the proceedings that we and Ms Gabriel-Abraham felt equally strongly about our respective positions and that each had different perceptions of the events that took place.

“The company will continue the process of reviewing, updating and improving our core employment documents and procedures across our entire business beyond its existing compliant framework.”

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Photo credit: Martin Pettitt via photopin cc

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