Sports Direct has announced its first-ever elected staff member to attend board meetings.
In a push to dispel criticism following the workers’ rights scandal that has plagued the retailer since last year, Sports Direct has appointed Alex Balacki as employee representative.
The 30-year-old will attend company board meetings for the next 12 months and in his own words will “ensure the people of Sports Direct are heard”.
Founder and billionaire Mike Ashley, who has been widely criticised by MPs and shareholders for the working conditions and poor corporate governance measures, congratulated Balacki on his election.
“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,” he said in a letter to staff.
“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.”
Despite this, workers union Unite and business leaders critical of Ashley’s practices have been quick to announce their scepticism over the new measures.
When the scheme was announced last month, Unite’s assistant general secretary Steve Turner said: “If the worker is hand-picked by Sports Direct, without union support, training and confidence to speak up, then this risks being little more than a PR exercise rather than a serious attempt to right the wrongs of the past.”
In light of Balackie’s appointment, union representative Luke Primarolo added: “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.”