The largest UK sportswear retailer has been subjected to a stream of criticism for its’ working conventions, with officials from the Union, Unite, campaigning against a strict culture in the warehouse which has made workers scared to speak out over low pay and conditions for fear of losing their jobs.

A report by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) select committee, which was prompted by a Guardian investigation last year, said Mike Ashley, the billionaire retailer who owns Sports Direct, had used “appalling working practices” and treated his “workers as commodities rather than as human beings”. The report lists a series of policies affecting staff “which fall way below acceptable standards in a modern, civilised economy”.

The BIS committee report led to a scathing Parliamentary Inquiry into the practices of Sports Direct. Initially the businessman refused demands to appear in the House of Commons and answer questions regarding his staff being paid less than the minimum wage, at the firm’s Shirehouse warehouse. Ashley eventually appeared and answered questions at a Westminster hearing last month.

The Inquiry determined Mike Ashley built his success on a business model that treats workers “without dignity or respect”.

MPs condemned the use of a “six strikes and you’re out” policy, which means staff face not being offered any more hours if they commit six infractions. They said: “A strike can be given to a worker if they spend too long in the toilet or chatting, or if they take time off when they are ill or when their children are unwell.”

They cautioned: “The ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy is used as a punitive measure, which denigrates the workers at Sports Direct and gives the management unreasonable and excessive powers to discipline or dismiss at will.”

They condemned the use of agencies which provide staff to Sports Direct on temporary contracts, so that the business avoids employing people directly.

MPs stated: “Many of the agency workers at the Shirebrook warehouse have been working there for many years… we heard no convincing reason why Sports Direct engaged the workers through agencies on short-term, temporary contracts, other than to reduce costs and pass responsibility.”

And they highlighted the use of zero hour contracts in Sports Direct shops, which mean staff can be “bullied, pushed around, and summarily sacked with no explanation.”

They noted that Mr Ashley had admitted some staff had been paid less than the minimum wage, because they were forced to wait to be searched as they left the warehouse after their official working hours were over.

They said: “Although Sports Direct is a particularly bad example of a business that exploits its workers in order to maximise its profits, it is unlikely that it is the only organisation that operates in such a way.”

With that in mind, here are your rights that you need to know as an employee with a zero hour contract:

Zero hour contracts are considered inappropriate if they are used as an alternative to proper business planning and should not be used as a permanent arrangement if it is not justifiable. This type of contract does not allow employers to avoid their responsibilities. All staff, regardless of their contract, are entitled to employment rights and should be treated fairly and within the law. For example, the National Minimum Wage should be adhered to, regardless of the number of hours the worker undertakes. They are also entitled to statutory annual leave, rest breaks and protection from discrimination.

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