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Sports Direct warehouse in the spotlight

Sports Direct warehouse in the spotlight

The working practices at Sports Direct's Shirebrook DC have hit national headlines, with its founder Mike Ashley having to defend the company in a grilling by a committee of MPs.

Ashley told the committee that Sports Direct's policy of fining warehouse staff for being one minute late is "unacceptable". He also admitted the company had paid workers below the minimum wage and was consequently being investigated by the HMRC.

The MPs stepped in to haul Ashley over the coals after a series of allegations were made, including the use of zero-hours contracts for 79% of the firm's staff, and time-consuming security searches, leading to staff earning under the minimum wage. In one reported case, an employee had given birth in a toilet at the warehouse, due to fear of calling in sick.

Unite union officials said the Shirebrook DC operated a "strike system" for misdemeanours where staff were given "a strike" for things such as spending too long in the toilet, excessive chatting or taking a day off sick. Once an employee had six strikes they were automatically dismissed.

"When you have people under that much fear they come into work ill and that creates a significant health and safety risk," Steve Turner, assistant general secretary of Unite told the BBC.

Ashley says he has already begun an internal investigation into the allegations, that it was an ongoing process and that he had discovered some issues.

He said the issue of time it took for staff to undergo security checks after clocking off has now been addressed. He blamed much of the firm's problems on its rapid growth, fuelled by a large increase in e-commerce business.

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