Rachel Reeves demands coronavirus answers from Mike Ashley and Tim Martin

Labour MP and chair of the business select committee Rachel Reeves has written to Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley and JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin over their coronavirus measures.

Concerns have been raised over reports that Sports Direct employees were told they would have to go into work despite stores being closed – and Ashley at first said the shops would remain open despite not selling essential goods.

Martin was criticised last week for criticising the idea of closing pubs across the country, and then said staff would not be paid until the government provided 80% of wages under its ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’.

The Wetherspoons founder then suggested to workers in a video message that they should consider  working in a supermarket such as Tesco – a comment that was described as “completely unacceptable” by the bakers’ union BFAWU.

In her letters to the employers, Reeves has asked a range of potential areas of concerns, including the  number of redundancies, the level of pay for extra staff, and how workers on zero-hour contracts will be treated.

Update, 5.20pm: Following a session in front of the select committee, Wetherspoons has U-turned on the decision not to pay 43,000 staff until the end of April, and will instead be paid weekly, according to Jo Stevens MP.


Below is the full text of Rachel Reeves’ letter to Mike Ashley.

Dear Mr Ashley,

I am writing to ask for detailed information about the measures that Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United Football Club are taking to support their employees during the current coronavirus crisis.

This is a national emergency, and governments, citizens and businesses are taking unprecedented measures to protect lives and livelihoods.

I would be grateful if you could answer the following questions, in relation to your staff at Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United:

• How many staff will be designated as “furloughed workers” and therefore able to receive 80% of their wages through the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
• The proportion of staff designated as “furloughed workers” on full-time, part-time and zero-hours contracts;
• The amount that Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United will contribute towards the remaining 20% of staff wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
• The number of staff who will be made redundant;
• Confirmation that Sports Direct, House of Fraser and Newcastle United will continue to pay the wages of staff in full until the funding from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme becomes available;
• Whether any extra staff taken on for deliveries will be paid the National Living Wage;
• The measures taken in Sports Direct and House of Fraser warehouses to ensure workers are safe, including the provision of handwash and hand sanitiser, sufficient distance between co-workers, and the cleaning of workspaces.

Given the gravity of the situation, I would appreciate a reply by Friday 27 March. Yours sincerely,

Rachel Reeves MP
Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee


Below is the full text of Rachel Reeves’ letter to Tim Martin.

Dear Tim,

I am writing to ask for detailed information about the measures that Wetherspoons is taking to support its employees during the current coronavirus crisis.

This is a national emergency, and governments, citizens and businesses are taking unprecedented measures to protect lives and livelihoods.

I was therefore disappointed to read that you have not indicated whether you intend to cover the wages of your staff until government support comes through. This is despite other companies in your industry guaranteeing that they will pay their staff for at least eight weeks. Furthermore, you also seem to have suggested that when the government do pay 80% of your staff’s wages you might not pay the other 20%. Finally, I am deeply concerned that while you encourage your workforce to consider working for supermarkets you note that if they do you will give them “first preference” if they “want to come back”. Please can you therefore confirm:

• How many of your staff will be furloughed?
• Will you pay your staff’s wages up until the government’s money comes through?
• Will you pay the remaining 20% of your staff’s wages when government support begins and, if so, will this be for all your staff?
o For instance, will you treat your staff differently according to their wages and duties and only top-up wages over a certain pay threshold?
• How you will pay and treat staff that you employ who are on zero-hour contracts?
• What will be the status of your workers if they work for supermarkets or engage in other essential work?
• Will your staff have to reapply for their jobs when the present crisis is over?
• How are you ensuring the health and safety of those staff that are still working for Wetherspoons, for instance in administration, HR and payroll?

Given the seriousness of the situation, and the Committee’s deep concerns about your approach in recent days, I would appreciate a reply by Friday 27 March.

Yours sincerely,

Rachel Reeves MP
Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee

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