It is the first time the Labour leader has named a company that he thinks needs to treat its workers better, after coming under pressure to be specific about some of the “powerful vested interests” he has argued are working against ordinary people.
In a speech on Thursday fighting backing against criticism of his leadership, Miliband said he would tackle a zero-zero economy characterised by an epidemic of zero-hours contracts combined with the zero taxes paid by the wealthy.
On Saturday he will go further by publicly criticising Sports Direct for employing more than eight out of 10 of its 20,000 workforce on zero-hours contracts – despite many of them working regular hours.
He will promise that the next Labour government will bring in new laws giving workers a regular contract if they are working regular hours, the right to refuse demands to be available outside their contracted hours, and compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice.
“We’ve listened to businesses and we’ve listened to workers. We cannot go on with an economy that allows businesses to use zero-hours contracts as the standard way of employing people month after month, year after year,” he will say.
“Sports Direct has thousands of its employers on zero-hours contracts, the vast majority of its workforce. Sports Direct has predictable turnover, it is a modern company with stores on many high streets and, judging by its success, where many people shop.
“But for too many of its employees, Sports Direct is a bad place to work. This is not about exceptional use of zero-hours contracts for short-term or seasonal work which some employers and workers may find convenient. This is the way Sports Direct employs the vast majority of its workforce. These Victorian practices have no place in the 21st century. And under a Labour government, the exploitation of zero-hours contracts will be banned.”
Miliband’s decision to name a specific company is a brave one after Chris Bryant, a shadow minister, had to backtrack on claims about Next and Tesco employing cheap foreign labour last year. It may also fuel criticism from his opponents that the party is too anti-business.
Sports Direct, which is majority-owned by the billionaire Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley, settled a lawsuit over its use of zero-hours contracts last month. Under a settlement agreed before a tribunal, the retailer will have to make clear in job adverts, contracts and staff rooms that it does not guarantee work, sick pay or holiday pay in the terms under which the vast majority of its staff are employed.
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