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Campaigners stage protests outside Sports Direct stores in Newcastle and Gateshead

Newspaper Clip ArtMembers of Unite gathered outside Sports Direct stores to urge owner Mike Ashley to put an end to 'Victorian' work practices

Campaigners staged protests outside three North East Sports Direct stores to urge Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley to end 'Victorian' work practices.

Around 30 members of Britain's largest union, Unite, braved the cold and gathered outside the sports retailer's branches in Northumberland Street, in Newcastle, the Metrocentre and Gateshead town centre today

The campaigners spent the morning handing out Valentine's cards calling on Ashley to 'have a heart' by putting staff on permanent contracts and 'paying the real living wage'.

The protests were part of a national campaign day organised by Unite against the retailer's so-called 'Victorian' work practices, which will see a 20,000 strong petition handed in at Sport Direct's headquarters in Shirebrook, Derbyshire.

John Coan, Unite community coordinator for the North East, said the turnout and reception in Newcastle had been 'fantastic'.

He said: "As always in the North East, the public were really good and, as always, really got behind us.

"I think, for them, it was not only about the Victorian work practices at Sports Direct but about what the owner is doing to their great football club!

"It was a great campaign, about 30 people turned up from Unite. Most were union members but there were some former Sports Direct employees there as well.

"It was a pretty good turnout considering it was a cold, wet February Saturday morning.

"We were in Newcastle until about 11.30am and then we moved to the Metrocentre and then Gateshead, so we got three stores in by 2pm."

Mr Coan added: "Sports Direct has become a byword for Victorian work practices and shoddy corporate governance. So much so, over 20,000 people have signed a petition telling the retailer it's time for them to clean their act up.

"Football fans from Newcastle and Rangers have also made their feelings known, while investors and business groups, like the Institute of Directors, have voiced their continued and deep concern.

"Sports Direct cannot match billionaire boss Mike Ashley's promise of becoming a model employer by merely paying lip service to reviewing employment practices and giving pitiful pay rises.

"The problems run far deeper. Sports Direct needs a fundamental rethink of its corporate governance and the way it treats its staff if it's to repair its tarnished reputation and damaged share price.

"Sports Direct needs to have a heart, put staff on permanent contracts and pay the real living wage to regain the trust of customers and investors alike."

A Channel 4 Dispatches investigation in 2015 claimed some of the Sports Direct workforce was in constant fear of losing their jobs with staff in the Shirebrook warehouse named and shamed over a tannoy for not working fast enough.

A separate BBC investigation also claimed that ambulances were called to the Shirebrook site more than 80 times in two years.

The latest action follows a series of 'Sports Direct Shame' protests by Newcastle United and Rangers football fans over Sports Direct's work practices and treatment of agency workers at its main warehouse in Shirebrook.

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