Labour leader Ed Miliband to slam Sports Direct over zero hour contracts

MP Ed Miliband
MP Ed Miliband
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Doncaster North MP, Ed Miliband, is set to condemn firms using ‘Victorian practices’ to exploit their workers in the latest stage of his assault on the use of zero-hours contracts.

The Labour leader will step up his attack on what he calls the ‘zero-zero economy’ - where workers are left without guaranteed hours and those at the top can get away without paying tax - as part of his attempt to bounce back after a bruising round of infighting.

The Labour-run council in Doncaster has admitted to hiring around 300 staff on zero-hour contracts.

However, Mr Miliband is set to single out high street chain Sports Direct as an example of a firm where the ‘vast majority’ of employees are on zero-hours contracts.

The retail giant is a ‘bad place to work’ for too many of its staff, he will claim.

The firm agreed last month to make ‘major changes’ for staff on zero-hours contracts after legal action brought by a former employee.

Job adverts will be re-written and employment contracts for future zero-hours staff will make it clear that work is not guaranteed, said Leigh Day, the law firm which represented Zahera Gabriel-Abraham in an employment tribunal claim for sex discrimination, unfair treatment and breach of holiday rights.

Mr Miliband will highlight Labour’s plans to give workers on zero-hours contracts extra legal rights - including the ability to demand a regular contract if they are working regular hours.

The Opposition has also promised to give workers the right to refuse demands that they are available around the clock and access to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice.

Ministers have announced plans to ban exclusivity clauses in zero-hours contracts which prevent employees from seeking work elsewhere, but Labour say much more needs to be done.

In a speech in Coventry Mr Miliband will say: “A graphic symbol of what is wrong with the way this country is run is the army of people working on zero-hours contracts with no security while a few people at the top get away with paying zero tax.

“This zero-zero economy shows we live in a deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust country run for a few at the top, not for most people. It is a country I am determined to change.

“Zero-hours contracts are becoming the norm in parts of our economy. Their numbers have increased to 1.4 million since this Government came to power.

“It has left too many people not knowing how they will make ends meet from one week to the next, and unable to plan for the future. And this Government won’t do anything to stop it. But we will.

“We’ve listened to businesses and we’ve listened to workers. We cannot go on with an economy that allows businesses to use zero-hours contracts as the standard way of employing people month after month, year after year.”

Specifically targeting Sports Direct he will say the firm has ‘thousands of its employers on zero-hours contracts, the vast majority of its workforce’.

“Sports Direct has predictable turnover, it is a modern company with stores on many high streets and, judging by its success, where many people shop,” Mr Miliband will say.

“But for too many of its employees, Sports Direct is a bad place to work.

“This is not about exceptional use of zero-hours contracts for short term or seasonal work which some employers and workers may find convenient. This is the way Sports Direct employs the vast majority of its workforce.

“These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st Century.

“And under a Labour government, the exploitation of zero-hours contracts will be banned.

“We’re going to change this zero-zero economy.

“Because under Labour, if you work regular hours you will have a legal right to a regular contract.”

Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock said Mr Miliband was not announcing any new policies to tackle zero-hours abuse and insisted the Government was already taking action.

He said: “Another rehashed policy from Ed Miliband can’t hide the fact that he still hasn’t got an economic plan to secure a better future for Britain. He’s just not up to the job.

“We’re already tackling the abuse of zero-hours contracts - after 13 years of Labour doing absolutely nothing about it. And Labour authorities continue to use them - even Ed Miliband’s own Doncaster Council have admitted using 300 people on zero-hours contracts.

“All Labour offers is more spending, more borrowing and more taxes, which would make people on low pay worse off.”

Sports Direct did not comment on Mr Miliband’s attack, but highlighted their statement at the time of the legal case setting out the changes they were making.

A spokesman said: “ 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.”