The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 23rd December 2016

Job Centres block JD Sports over bad working conditions

THE DEPARTMENT of Work and Pensions (DWP) has suspended sending job seekers to JD Sports warehouse in Rochdale, Lancashire, following an exposure of “worse than prison” working conditions screened by Channel 4 News last week.

The undercover investigation found that workers could be dismissed for getting three “strikes” (warnings over misdemeanours) — making the company twice as bad as the notorious Sports Direct, whose boss was grilled by MPs a few months ago. Sports Direct fired people after six “strikes”.

Workers at JD Sports, like those at Sports Direct, are employed by a recruitment agency so the culpability for the appalling working conditions is clouded.

They can earn “strikes” just by sitting down — during 12-hour shifts. They face routine searches on arrival for work and on leaving. This involves queuing for around 15 minutes before and after clocking on — in other words they do not get paid the queuing time and this brings their wages under the legal minimum wage.

The investigation shows that JD Sports workers are “exploited” and “treated like cattle” and “like scum” according to Iain Wright, Labour MP for Hartlepool, who chairs the parliamentary Business Select Committee.

The oppressive practices are taking place despite public uproar about working conditions at warehouses operated by other large retailers, including Sports Direct, Amazon and Asos.

The Kingsway Business Park facility in Rochdale, which supplies all of JD Sport’s stores in Britain and abroad, as well as its thriving online business, currently employs 1,500 workers and operates 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

In September, JD Sports was named Britain’s biggest sporting goods retailer and announced record profits that have surged by 66 per cent in the first six months of the year.

Meanwhile Sports Direct, following publicity over its appalling working conditions so bad that local ambulances were being called on a regular basis to attend to workers made ill by exhaustion, has seen first half underlying profits plummet by 57 per cent.

JD Sports operates more than 800 stores in Britain and Europe, and claims it is a “great place to work”.

The Channel 4 News investigation found that many new staff taken on at the warehouse are employed through an employment agency called Assist Recruitment, which says it has been working with JD Sports for 12 years.

The agency recruits are given zero-hours contracts with no guarantee of work and are paid the minimum wage of £7.20 per hour. The contracts allow the agency to dismiss them instantly without notice. After 12 weeks of work, the agency then guarantees just 7.5 hours of work per week.

The investigation found staff were routinely threatened by supervisors. Undercover footage shows a team leader boasting of sacking workers on the spot, for as little as sitting down through exhaustion.

One supervisor told the undercover reporter they could be disciplined if they slowed down, despite having met relentless targets set by the company. An induction booklet produced by Assist Recruitment and given to all new workers refers to “strikes” as part of their disciplinary procedure. Staff and supervisors confirm that so-called “strikes” can be issued for offences including being caught with chocolates or lighters in the warehouse.

Other offences include lateness, “attitude”, absenteeism and having chewing gum. Workers are told that other offences, such as having a mobile phone, can result in instant dismissal.

Iain Wright told Channel 4 News that he would be calling JD Sports to appear before the Committee. “I would like to see JD Sports in front of us. But what really worries me if I’m honest; this is getting to be a longer and longer list.

“The number of company bosses that have to explain their actions and explain their working practices, and explain why they use agencies that exploit, that abuse, is really getting longer. And we really have to deal with that. I think there is a real problem.

“I think there is a cultural and structural issue in Britain. We treat our low paid workers in this country like scum. We don’t give them any dignity or respect. And I think it is an absolute disgrace that in this country you are on minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, that you’re frightened you might lose your job and that you might not have an opportunity to go to another job. And yet you are shouted and barked at like a dog.”

The DWP confirmed it has suspended the company from recruiting for the Kingsway plant in Job Centres until they are “satisfied that workers are being treated appropriately”.

Yet it seems that there are many other employers like this — and the unemployed can have their benefits sanctioned if they refuse to work for a company like this.