(Adds details, background, shares)
LONDON, Sept 6 Britain's Sports Direct
said on Tuesday it would offer directly employed shop workers
the option of switching from so-called "zero hours" contracts to
ones with a guaranteed minimum amount of work, as part of a
drive to improve working practices.
The announcement came after the retailer published the
results of an independent review that identified "serious
shortcomings" in practices at its warehouse in Shirebrook,
central England, where it employs thousands of agency workers.
The company, founded and controlled by billionaire Mike
Ashley, apologised for the shortcomings and said it was already
taking steps to make improvements and would act on other
recommendations. It also said it would engage with shareholders
to improve its corporate governance.
Sports Direct has come under fire from politicians and
unions for effectively paying workers less than the minimum wage
at Shirebrook and for widespread use of "zero hours" contracts
in shops, where staff do not know how much work they will get.
Lawmakers in July said the company treated workers at
Shirebrook "as commodities rather than human beings", with
working practices closer to "that of a Victorian warehouse than
that of a modern high street retailer".
The review requested by the retailer's board and undertaken
by legal advisers RPC recommended changes to clocking on
procedures and security checks at Shirebrook, and the suspension
of a "six strikes" policy used to control discipline.
Changes would also be made to clothing policies for
employees and the use of the tannoy in the warehouse to instruct
staff, it said.
The shortcomings identified in the report could pile more
pressure on Sports Direct's board, including its chairman Keith
Hellawell, at the firm's annual general meeting on Wednesday.
A number of investors, including Legal & General, have said
they will oppose Hellawell's re-election.
Sports Direct said it had requested RPC to lead a further
comprehensive review of working practices.
"The review will also include examining the Company's
corporate governance, and as part of this process, the Board
will engage with shareholders to obtain their views," it said.
Shares in Sports Direct, which have fallen 43 percent this
year, were up 2 percent at 339 pence at 0744 GMT.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Paul Sandle; Editing by Mark