Wednesday 28 June 2017

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley admits 'issues', warehouse worker gave birth in toilet

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley

John Mulligan and wire services

A Sports Direct warehouse worker gave birth in a company toilet in 2014, and ambulances have been called over 100 times to the company’s mammoth premises in Shirebrook in northern England, trade union Unite has told a UK parliamentary committee this morning.

Steve Turner, assistant general secretary at Unite, told the committee that the local ambulance service has been called 110 times to the warehouse.

That included 34 calls to treat workers with chest pains and a number of miscarriages.

Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley has admitted that he paid workers below the minimum wage, also telling MPs that he has discovered "issues" with working practices at the retailer as part of an internal review.

Mr Ashley told MPs: "I've discovered some issues and I've hopefully addressed some of those issues. Bottlenecks at security are the main issue."

MPs are investigating working practices at Sports Direct's Shirebrook warehouse, including poor working conditions, security staff searching employees, the use of controversial zero-hours contracts and paying less than the minimum wage.

Mr Ashley, whose firm owns 50pc of Heatons, described the review as a "work in progress".

Mr Ashley, sitting alongside public relations adviser Keith Bishop, was asked if employees were effectively paid less than the minimum wage, and answered: "On that specific point, for that specific bit of time, yes."

Mr Ashley’s ex-wife Linda, with who he reconciled in recent years, was sitting behind him at the hearing.

When asked whether it would be better if an independent organisation carried out a review of working conditions at Shirebrook, Mr Ashley said: "I can agree that in some ways I am not the right person because I am not an expert on every area of employment, obviously."

He added: "It is not what I do for a living."

He said he only spoke to the trade unions when they had the option to ask questions at the company's AGM, which is held once a year.

Mr Ashley said Sports Direct can do a better job than the Unite union when it came to looking after workers.

When asked if that was a view shared by the employees, he said: "I would hope so."

Sports Direct is understood to have bought the former Boyers department store in a deal estimated at €12.5m. The retailer is believed to have bought the premises from developer Noel Smyth.

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