The chair of the influential Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee has written to the bosses of JD Wetherspoon (JDW.L) and Sports Direct (FRAS.L) to question their conduct, amid a public backlash over their handling of the national shutdown.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves on Wednesday 25 March wrote to JD Wetherspoon founder and chairman Tim Martin, and Sports Direct founder and chief executive Mike Ashley to ask for “detailed information” about what they are doing to support staff during the coronavirus crisis.
It follows a public backlash against both Martin and Ashley over their treatment of staff in recent days.
Wetherspoon staff and a leading union criticised Martin on Tuesday after he told employees they would likely face delays getting paid and should consider getting a job at Tesco instead. Martin said Wetherspoon would not cover wages from this week and staff would have to wait to be paid through the government’s newly announced coronavirus job retention scheme.
Separately on Wednesday, it emerged that Wetherspoon had written to suppliers asking them to wait until its pubs reopen to get paid, even for goods already delivered.
“Wetherspoon has asked suppliers to help it out at this difficult time, but said that individual suppliers can get in touch to discuss this with Wetherspoon,” a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, Sports Direct initially tried to open its stores on Tuesday despite the national shutdown, telling staff it should be classed as an “essential” retailer because it could help keep the nation fit during the crisis. The company was forced into a U-turn but also faced criticism for hiking the price of some items online by 50%.
Reeves on Wednesday sent a list of questions to Martin and Ashley in light of these reports, asking them to outline how they are protecting staff during the Covid-19 pandemic both financially and in terms of health.
The Labour MP was particularly critical of Martin, saying her committee has “deep concerns about [his] approach in recent days.”
Reeves wrote she was “disappointed to read that you have not indicated whether you intend to cover the wages of your staff until government support comes through.” She was also concerned the staff who were encouraged to work at Tesco appear to have to reapply for their jobs after the crisis.
“Sports Direct and JD Wetherspoons are big names on our high streets, relying on the dedication and hard-work of their staff and the trust of customers for their success,” Reeves said in a statement sent to media.
“At times of national crisis, it’s vital that businesses step up, do the right thing and stand by their workers and their customers.
“When many businesses are undertaking great work to support the national effort, it’s crucial that companies such as JD Wetherspoons and Sports Direct do all they can to ensure their workers are properly protected and get the pay to which they are entitled.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson on Monday ordered all non-essential businesses to close and told the public to stay at home in a bid to curb the spread of novel coronavirus. However, some employers have continued to ask staff to come in to work amid confusion as to what counts as essential.
Asked about Sports Direct’s actions in recent days, Johnson said during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that businesses should “obey the rules or... expect the consequences.”