Sports Direct has elected an employee to attend board meetings, after a series of scandals over the way the company is run and how it treats its staff.
But Unite, Britain’s biggest union, warned that the newly appointed board member “will face an uphill struggle to have workers’ concerns heard and to resolve the deep-rooted problems across the business”.
The appointment of Alex Balacki, 30, as the company’s employee representative follows a tumultuous 2016 for the retailer that included its billionaire chief executive, Mike Ashley, being hauled before MPs to be questioned over “Victorian” working conditions.
Balacki is a Barnstaple store manager who has been with the company for 13 years. He will begin his 12-month role as an employee representative later this spring.
The union’s Luke Primarolo said: “Unite wishes the newest member of the Sports Direct board well and would like to offer to meet as soon as possible so that we can brief him on the experiences of the workforce.
“We urge that he makes one of his first acts to persuade the company that agency workers on insecure hire-and-fire contracts are offered permanent appointments.”
In a letter to staff, Ashley said: “I’d like to be the first to congratulate Alex, who will help us to continue to make a positive difference by ensuring that your voice is heard in the boardroom.
“I have said many times that this is a company that was built by the great people who work here. I am therefore delighted that the people at Sports Direct have voted to choose the company’s first UK elected workers’ representative.”
Balacki said he was “very proud” to have been picked by staff ahead of two rival candidates. “It’s now my role to ensure the people of Sports Direct are heard.”