Many observers have been rightly appalled by revelations about the treatment of staff in Sports Direct warehouses, following Mike Ashley’s controversial testimony before a committee of MPs yesterday.
It was interesting that the story broke on the same day as Jeremy Corbyn launched Labour’s latest referendum campaign poster, highlighting the crucial role of the European Union in establishing and protecting British workplace rights. Indeed, I was struck by how many of the workers’ rights allegedly ignored by Sports Direct management are actually thanks to EU law in the first place.
- Parents have the right to take urgent leave in case of a family medical emergency.
- EU citizens are protected from sexual harassment at work.
- Common European rules provide for workplace health and safety, which should have protected these employers from being forced to carry over-heavy loads or walk many miles a day.
- EU law guarantees workers the right to maternity leave, protection from dismissal for becoming pregnant, and time off for medical reasons.
- Staff have the right to rest breaks and should not be punished for being “in the toilet too long”.
- Temporary and agency workers are due the same rights as permanent workers, and have the right to be informed about permanent vacancies. The Tories strongly resisted these rights, and outside the EU we would very likely lose them.
- Legal advice suggests compulsory security checks after the end of working hours should count as working hours under EU law.
- Labour MEPs are fighting for action to tackle zero-hours contracts.
European laws are in place for a reason. If Sports Direct have been riding roughshod over them, as alleged, then that’s not good enough, and if the UK government has been half-hearted in enforcing them, then that’s absolutely not good enough. But one thing is clear: if you sympathise with the apparent plight of staff working for Sports Direct, you should be a strong supporter of our EU membership.