contractA former employee of Sports Direct has launched legal action against the firm over its use of zero hours contracts in a case that could have serious implications for a huge number of employees across the country who are currently employed on zero hours contracts.

Zahera Gabriel-Abraham has brought the legal claim, which is funded by fellow members of 38 Degrees (one of the UK’s biggest campaigning communities) through donations.

She started working at the Croydon Sports Direct store in October 2012 as a part-time sales assistant, and similarly to all of the company’s part-time sales assistants she was termed a “casual” worker.

Gabriel-Abraham claims that, despite the “casual” label, the reality of her working arrangement should have entitled her to be treated no less favourably than full-time employees.

Commenting, she said:

“If you happen to fall out of line, or your manager thinks you have not done very well that week, your hours just get cut – you feel like you are just at the beck and call of the people above you.

“I felt I always had to play up to someone’s ego just to work – and in the end you just start to feel a bit bullied.”

She added:

“Regularly they would call you in the middle of the day and they are like: ‘Can you come to work now?’ You feel like you have to say yes because if you say no you are seen as unreliable and the next week you don’t get a shift, it is as simple as that.

“I felt hugely manipulated and bullied the whole time.”

It was recently revealed that Sports Direct employs 20,000 of its 23,000 employees under the zero hours contracts, and since then, a number of other employers have admitted that they also employ a large number of workers on such contracts.

Elizabeth George, a barrister at Leigh Day, who is acting for Gabriel-Abraham, said:

“We are not arguing that employers cannot have genuine flexible contracts, but the contract under which Ms Gabriel-Abraham worked, and which all 20,000 part-time employees appear to be working, has no flexibility at all for those people who sign them.

“There was no practical difference between the obligations put on my client by the company and those placed on full-time staff.”

She added:

“Casual workers traditionally supplement an employer’s salaried staff, to be called upon when cover is needed or demand is high. In return for not having the security of knowing when you might work, you have the benefit of being able to choose when you work. Without that choice you are not a casual worker, you are just a worker with no job security.

“The ‘casual’ part-time employees in this case are employees in the conventional sense and denying them their paid holidays, sick pay and bonuses is unlawful.”

David Babbs, Executive Director at 38 Degrees, said:

“We’ve had a huge response from our members on this issue, many of whom are on so-called zero-hours contracts themselves.

“These contracts clearly work in certain circumstances, but in others, are being abused by employers to restrict people’s rights. That’s why we’ve asked our members to help fund this legal action – so we can send a clear message to that thousands of people are standing with Gabriel-Abraham in her legal claim.”

Mr Babbs added:

“Big businesses must be held to account and zero-hours contracts must not be used as a justification to abuse employees’ rights.”