Socialist Worker

Birth in toilets puts a spotlight on Sports Direct conditions

by Jeannie Robinson
Issue No. 2387

The Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, north Derbyshire

The Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, north Derbyshire

On New Year’s Day a woman worker gave birth to a baby in the toilets of a Sports Direct warehouse in Shirebrook, north Derbyshire. 

She had allegedly been refused permission to go home after reporting sick.

Police confirmed they questioned the woman for “neglect” but she has not been charged.

This incident has led to outrage in the local area—and exposed what workers call a “culture of fear” at the plant.

Both local Labour MPs, Dennis Skinner and Sir Alan Meale, spoke out in the local paper last week. Both have approached the company but been ignored.

Meale said, “I have spoken to people who work there and I know that staff are in fear for their jobs on a daily basis.”

He added that Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley was allowing people to work in “appalling conditions”.

Since the birth, other workers at the warehouse have made new allegations about their treatment.

One said working there was like living “in the olden days”.

Every worker is searched on leaving the plant, and are sometimes asked to strip.


Often the queues for these checks last for hours and employees are not paid for the time they spend waiting.

Workers report bullying on the shop floor. They describe people being laid off or having their hours cut, and say there is a big turnover of staff at the site.

Another says there is a “strike system” and “if you get six you are out the door”. This can be for things such as lateness.

Management has insisted that no one is allowed to speak about the conditions in the factory.

Sports Direct is a hugely successful company valued at £4.3 billion. Owner Ashley is a billionaire with a 64 percent stake in the firm. 

He owns Newcastle United Football Club, which is sponsored by payday loan shark Wonga.

The huge warehouse in Shirebrook is the hub of his company.

It employs around 5,000 people—and some 90 percent are on zero hours contracts.

There are some Unite union members at the plant. And campaigners plan to work with local trades councils to demand an end to these practices.  

Hovis workers in Wigan struck and got rid of zero hours contracts last year. They showed it can be done. 

There are many Polish staff at the plant. Workers in Poland have a proud history of solidarity, just as workers in Derbyshire do. Whatever our nationality, all workers deserve decent pay and conditions.

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Article information

Tue 21 Jan 2014, 17:01 GMT
Issue No. 2387
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