Sports Direct’s zero-hours contracts face legal challenge

Zero hours contracts - "unfairly

Sports Direct’s use of zero-hours contracts faces a legal challenge after one of its employees filed a claim in the employment tribunal.

The claim, brought by a Sports Direct employee, challenging the legality of the company’s treatment of its part-time workforce follows growing disquiet regarding the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts by some employers and the scale with which they are used.

Zahera Gabriel-Abraham, 30, from South-West London, has brought the legal claim, which is funded by fellow members of 38 Degrees (one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities) through donations. She started working at the Croydon Sports Direct store in October 2012 as a part-time sales assistant. Like all of the company’s part-time sales assistants she was termed a “casual” worker. Gabriel-Abraham claims that, regardless of the “casual” label, the reality of her working arrangement entitled her to be treated no less favourably than full-time staff.

Sports Direct is part of the Sports Direct Group, which is the UK’s largest sporting retailer, employing around 23,000 employees. Of these, 20,000 are part-time sales assistants who are on zero-hours contracts.

Last month the group announced that it was awarding its staff an average of 12,000 shares each. All part-time staff, the majority of the workforce, are ineligible for this share scheme, and are also denied paid annual leave and sick pay, according to Leigh Day, the law firm acting for Gabriel-Abraham.

Elizabeth George, a barrister at Leigh Day, said: “We are not arguing that employers cannot have genuine flexible contracts, but the contract under which Ms Gabriel-Abraham worked, and which all 20,000 part-time employees appear to be working, has no flexibility at all for those people who sign them.

“There was no practical difference between the obligations put on my client by the company and those placed on full-time staff. Casual workers traditionally supplement an employer’s salaried staff, to be called upon when cover is needed or demand is high. In return for not having the security of knowing when you might work, you have the benefit of being able to choose when you work. Without that choice you are not a casual worker, you are just a worker with no job security.

“The ‘casual’ part-time employees in this case are employees in the conventional sense and denying them their paid holidays, sick pay and bonuses is unlawful.”

David Babbs, executive director at 38 Degrees, said: “We’ve had a huge response from our members on this issue, many of whom are on so-called zero-hours contracts themselves. These contracts clearly work in certain circumstances, but in others, are being abused by employers to restrict people’s rights. That’s why we’ve asked our members to help fund this legal action – so we can send a clear message to that thousands of people are standing with Gabriel-Abraham in her legal claim.”

Sports Direct declined to comment.

Zero-hours FAQ from XpertHR

What is the status of workers engaged on casual or zero hours contracts?

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