Image: Wikimedia Image: Wikimedia

Sports Direct has said casual retail staff will be offered guaranteed hours instead of zero-hour contracts, guaranteeing them at least 12 hours work a week.

However, the sportswear retailer is not offering guaranteed hours to more than 4,000 agency workers at its warehouse in Shirebrook, Derbyshire, as they are not eligible.

In a review commission by the firm, it said the use of zero- hour arrangements will continue to be reviewed “to ensure balance and fairness”.

Sports direct acknowledged and apologised for the poor conditions in Shirebrook, which have been described as “closer to that of a Victorian workhouse than that of a modern, reputable high-street retailer”.

The company said “serious shortcomings [were] identified in working practices in [the] warehouse which the Board deeply regrets and apologises for”.

In an investigation by The Guardian, it was found that temporary workers were being paid less than the minimum wage after being forced to go through strict security measures as they finished work.

The investigation also found that workers who turned up late for work by a few minutes or supposedly underperforming were embarrassed over the tannoy system.

The “six strikes” system, also uncovered in the investigation, threated warehouse workers with being automatically dismissed if they were found to be taking long toilet breaks, chatting excessively or taking a day off sick.

In the report published on Tuesday, Sports Direct said it would request Agencies to suspend the “six strikes” policy with immediate effect.

Other pledges in the report included employing a full-time nurse and welfare officer at Shirebrook, after unions found there were a large number of ambulance call-outs to the site. A Freedom of Information request by the Union to the East Midlands Ambulance Service stated that "a total of 110 ambulances or paramedic cars were dispatched to the Shirebrook warehouse's post code between 1 January 2013 and 19 April 2016 with 50 cases classified as "life-threatening".

The firm also pledged to introduce a confidential system for reporting sexual harassment following claims that female staff were intimidated at Shirebrook and implement fewer searches of warehouse staff and a reduction in the number of brands staff are banned from wearing, from more than 800 to 30.

Iain Wright, chairman of the committee, said on Twitter that the review was a positive step, but speaking about the abolishment of zero-hour contracts on Today, he said “we’d like to see whether that can be applied to the warehouse”.

Sports direct owner Mike Ashely has previously been accused of turning a blind eye to the conditions at the company by Mr Wright, but the report said Mr Ashley "takes ultimate responsibility for any aspects of the working practices that were unsatisfactory".

Alan Price, HR Director at Peninsula said: “Zero hours contracts are sometimes used by employers that require flexibility in their workforce, for example where the need for workers is unpredictable.

“Employers should be aware that they should not treat workers on zero hours contracts any less favourably, as they have the same employment rights as other workers on part-time or full-time contracts, for example, all workers have the right to receive at least the National Minimum Wage and the right to annual leave. Further to that, employers should not subject workers to detriment and treat them less favourably because they have rejected work or rarely accept it".

Mr Price added: “If an employer is or wants to use zero hours, they should carefully study the legislation, give the employee a written copy of the terms and condition of the contract. They should also review the performance of the employee regularly and gauge their feelings about the contract to see if they want to change or want to more permanent hours to prevent disillusionment.”

Conversely, read about why zero hour contracts may be here to stay