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Thursday 8th
posted by Morning Star in Britain

Sports Direct boss refuses to take blame for ‘Victorian’ conditions but points finger at UNITE instead

by Conrad Landin
in Shirebrook
SPORTS DIRECT investors refused to reappoint company chairman Keith Hellawell yesterday — but the shameless boss insists he will stay on.
A vote at the company’s stormy AGM required a majority of independent shareholders for the reappointment of directors.
But Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley, who owns 55 per cent of the company, can call another meeting in three months at which only a simple majority is required.
Ahead of the AGM, the firm announced retail staff would be offered guaranteed hours and an end to the “six strikes and you’re out” policy at Shirebrook.
But Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said bosses must go further and that the 12-hour contracts offered to workers was “not much of a choice” when workers felt they would get more work on their current arrangements.
The billionaire boss lost his rag, snapping at unions that it was “your fault we’re in this mess.
“Don’t pull me down when I’m trying, it doesn’t help … please don’t do the whole showboating thing. It’ll make me turn away.
“The only people who will suffer will be the people who work at Sports Direct.”
Mr Ashley, visibly sweating through his shirt, said he felt the firm might be able to engage with some union reps but not “this lot” who he accused of “punching up in some silly cartoon.”
After the AGM closed, Mr Turner said: “It should be quite astonishing that he responds to a question with a rant, but it’s what we’re used to.”
He said blaming the unions was “laughable at best.”
Asked by the Star if Mr Ashley’s behaviour could hinder relations with the workforce, Mr Hellawell defended the loudmouth boss’s attitude.
“Sometimes I have an outburst and sometimes other people have an outburst,” he said.
“You’ve got to judge Mike for what he’s done. Mike is working 12-15 hours a day to resolve these issues.”
Investors and union reps queued up to slam the retail giant for its “Victorian workhouse” conditions and said Tuesday’s review was insufficient.
Anis Ali, an independent shareholder and former Sports Direct manager, said management platitudes about offering a staff forum and employee handbook had not been reflected in reality.
“To date, none of the temps at SD have been given [a handbook],” he said.
Anita Skipper, speaking for Aviva Investors, said she had “woken up quite optimistic” following the  report by Sports Direct lawyers recommending reforms.
But she said Mr Hellawell’s statement that he would not quit at the start of the AGM — which came after the board rejected his resignation — had dampened the mood.
Fifty-two per cent of independent shareholders voted against reappointing Mr Hellawell. Non-executive directors Claire Jenkins, Simon Bentley and Dave Singleton were opposed by around a third of investors.
Ms Jenkins said: “We’ve all been given a kick in the stomach.”
Fifty-three per cent of independent shareholders supported a resolution from trade unions and Islington council calling for an independent review — the largest support on record for an employment-based resolution at a UK firm.
Trade Union Share Owners chair Janet Williamson said: “Today’s shareholder uprising should act as a cautionary tale to other employers.
Mr Turner added: “Investors have sent a robust message to the Sports Direct board that it has much more to do to reform and regain confidence.”
Star comment: P8