Sports Direct BIS inquiry shows importance of trade unions

Mike Ashley’s long awaited appearance before the Business, Innovation & Skills committee into work practices at Sports Direct should be a harsh reminder to every worker and employer in the country that we need a strong and vocal trade union movement. In every industry, from warehouse workers to journalists to lecturers and communications workers, lives are improved by the action of trade unions.

Rather than arrogantly dismissing the trade union movement, Mr Ashley should consider his own position, that despite his wealth, every individual deserves dignity in the workplace. The union movement have been trying to work constructively with Mr Ashley, but have been met with a wall of silence. A rushed greeting at an AGM does not replace workplace representation. . Unite have consistently called on Mr Ashley to end the Victorian working conditions in his business. His assumption that an occasional walk around the facility means he is in touch with his workforce shows he is just as out of touch as any Dickensian factory owner. He is not Father Christmas; he may be channelling Scrooge.

In a workplace in 21st century Britain, a woman has given birth in a toilet at her place of work. It verges on the ridiculous, but Mike Ashley & David Cameron have created circumstances where a woman is too scared to take time off despite being heavily pregnant.

Unionised workplaces are happier, healthier, wealthier and more productive. This isn’t just to the benefit of union members and employees, but it helps the employer to know they have a well-trained, motivated workforce, paid a fair wage for their work and feeling that they have a genuine voice in the workplace. A unionised workplace is one where sexual discrimination and harassment is typically lower. Mr Ashley would do well to consider that a blanket promise to the ‘fellas’ to end sexual harassment won’t do it. Proper training, the construction of structures and unionisation can combat sexual harassment in the workplace.

The draconian punishments for a minute of lateness have created an environment in which Mr Ashley would not want to see his children employed. If Mr Ashley wants to see Sports Direct as a positive employer, then scrapping these ridiculous policies that penalise employees for matters outside their control must be a priority. Every employee ought to be treated with dignity and respect, the same dignity and respect that Mr Ashley would want to see his children treated with.

Unfortunately, the picture at Sports Direct isn’t unique. There will be other employers who have not received this level of media attention, where the events are maybe not as extreme but the theme is the same. The Tory Party are wilfully and deliberately making these conditions the norm. They are deliberately weakening the unions and engendering a climate of fear among decent working people. It must end, the era of zero hours contracts and foodbanks must be brought to a close. History judges us on how we treat the least fortunate. It will judge Mr Ashley and Mr Cameron harshly.