Zak Mir – Are Zero Hours And Sports Direct Putting The Great Back Into Great Britain?

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The recent mini lottery winner style bonuses at Sports Direct were impressive in at least a couple of ways. The first, as I have stated before, is that the embarrassment of riches at the “fashion” retailer  (or “chav” outfitter depending on which side of the social camp you are on!), rather made a monkey out of many High Street names complaining about the death of conventional “offline” retail / cash strapped consumers and the wrong kind of weather… It simply revealed these moaners as people who are no good at their job. Capitalism at work at its finest.

The ubiquitous Mr Ashley enjoying himself!

However, given the colourful lifestyle of Sports Direct supremo Mike Ashley, and the way that in the UK as opposed to the U.S. that we are still not fully entrepreneur friendly (even after Thatcher), I was expecting a backlash. In fact, the logical consequence would probably have been for the press to have a dig at our hero of capitalism Mr Ashley. But no, instead, we have been introduced to the concept of Zero Hours, the simplest definition of which is to work “as and when” required. Interestingly, in the wake of these shock revelations, the media seems to have seized upon Zero Hours as akin to a latter day slavery. The angle seems to be that Zero Hours are a throwback to the Victorian era – a time when, ironically, this country had the greatest economy in the world.  Perhaps the latest economic revival is due to this practice becoming increasingly prevalent?

But the antipathy to hard work is something which is quite understandable in a world of coffee breaks, paternity leave, sickies/dentist visits on the occasion of major sporting fixtures or just before scheduled holidays. It struck me that in order to get Sporting Direct started I bet that Ashley had to work a Zero Hours regime, same with Bill Gates at Microsoft, The Beatles playing all night in Hamburg, and even yours truly have all been involved in a Zero Hours regime! All say aaaah.

I suspect almost all entrepreneurs of the past and currently have an open ended time commitment to what they are trying to create, and will still do even if they are subsequently billionaires. Indeed, the difference between an emerging economy and a developed / stagnant one that we have, is most likely to be not only the tax / red tape burden, but also all these GDP eroding ideas or muted working hours. It is tough, but so is the competition for the UK economy.

Happily, for my role model and his company Sports Direct (SPD), it can be seen from the share price trace of the recent past that so far the softies have not been able to threaten the business model. In fact, it could very well be that the revelations regarding the practices at the group – presumably due to how much it costs employers to hire people, are actually working in favour of the bull argument. People may be taking the view that Zero Hours will ensure that the Lottery style payouts will continue for Sports Direct’s hard working employees, and that shareholders will continue to be rewarded in kind.

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