Sports Direct’s settlement over zero hours contracts demonstrates the need for transparency across the sector for zero hours staff.

On Monday 27th October we achieved a settlement on behalf of our client, Zahera Gabriel-Abraham in her legal claim against Sports Direct.

As part of that settlement the global sports retailer has agreed to a set of legally binding changes to their recruitment and policy practices for zero hours staff in the UK.

These include having to:

  • Re-write their job adverts and employment contracts for future zero hours staff to expressly state that the roles do not guarantee work;
  • Produce clear written policies setting out what sick pay and paid holidays their zero hours staff are entitled to as well make clear there is a right to request that hours be guaranteed using the new statutory right to request flexible working procedures;
  • Display copies of the new policies in all staff rooms used by zero hours staff across its 400 plus stores in the UK; and
  • Send copies of their Equal Opportunities policy to all store managers and assistant managers with a written reminder that the policy and principles apply to zero hours staff.

Our fight against zero hours contracts, alongside campaign group 38 Degrees, came not from the fact of their existence, but from their reported misuse.

A genuinely mutual flexible arrangement is welcome.  But for many, the inherent insecurity that comes with this type of contract results in there actually being less flexibility than under a conventional contract. For example, we are told of people who do not take holidays, or go into work when they are not well for fear of losing offers of future or further hours.  Frequently hours are offered at very short notice.  Fine for some - but very difficult for people with children or other caring responsibilities.

Too often we are seeing this type of contract being used as a means to avoid basic rights that most people are lucky enough to be able to take for granted.  The right to be paid for all  the time you are required to be at work. The right to expect that if you are called into work, only to be turned away when you get there, you will not be left out of pocket because of travel expenses. The right to make a legitimate complaint about your work without suffering the threat of having it taken away.  None of this makes for a fair, healthy or effective workforce. 

The Government has recently announced its intention to pass legislation that will outlaw exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts (clauses that prevent individuals working elsewhere despite there being no guarantee of work).  In reality, it is unlikely that such clauses were legally enforceable, but nevertheless, having that now spelled out is welcome. 

Despite having identified lack of transparency as an issue in its recent consultation exercise, there is no move by the government to make transparency mandatory.  We would like to see the degree of transparency that Sports Direct are now obliged to deliver taken up by employers more widely.  Will it happen?  Perhaps. But the Governments proposed code of good practice for zero hours employers is to be voluntary and without the stick of sanctions, you suspect, not.  

  • Elizabeth George, employment and discrimination lawyer, Leigh Day