Exposed: The 'con' cards that suck thousands from Sports Direct workers

Sports Direct workers may be paying thousands for the use of staff debit cards as they're charged a fortune to gain access to pay.

Friday, 10th June 2016, 5:09 pm
Updated Monday, 13th June 2016, 12:24 pm
Chris Birkby and Jennifer Hardy of Transline (Image source: Parliamentlive.tv).

Unite officials revealed to the Sports Direct select committee inquiry on Tuesday, June 7 that Shirebrook workers who come through the employment agency Transline are offered a pre-paid debit card as a means of receiving pay, which could be earning the company a hefty profit as the bulk of the fees is so far unaccounted for.

The scheme is believed to have hit hundreds if not thousands of the 3,000-strong agency workforce, many of whom are migrant workers and can't set up bank accounts themselves.

The cards provided by 'alternative payment provider' Contis Group cost £10 a month to set up, as well as a monthly management fee for of £10 and a further 75p per ATM transaction.

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Luke Primarolo fo Unite said the cards were a 'tax on low-paid workers for the pleasure of accessing their wages'.

And while the company maintains the fees go straight to Contis, they may be charging employees five time more for the cards than the card provider.

The Chad has seen a copy of the fees for the Sports Direct employee card, which only came to light after a worker photographed the list of charges while they applied for the card.

The fees match a product scheme set up by Contis called a CredecardPlus, but the scheme only charges workers £2 a month with no initial startup fee, and ATM transactions remain at 75p each.

The discrepancy in fees has led Union officials to ask where the other £8 goes - and we have began an investigation into the possibility that Transline makes a profit to the tune of millions over the past decade.

Jennifer Hardy admitted the company does receive a rebate from the provider of a company debit card, but this was 'not significant'.

Local Unite rep Luke Primarolo said the cards were a 'con', and target people who cannot speak fluent English and are not in a position to refuse them as they're unable to take out a traditional bank account to receive their wages.

He added: "We estimate there have been hundreds of these cards, if not thousands. It's a con - it's a tax on low-paid workers for the pleasure of accessing their wages.

"Transline says they explain the fees to the workers, but what we're told time and time again is that people are finding these fees on their pay slips and have no idea what they are.

"The reality is that you come from another country to the UK and you need a bank account, how do you get one if you'e living in a house of multiple occupancy, you haven't got proof of where you've been living for the past three years and the company exploits the language barrier preventing them from knowing fully what they're engaged in to profit from to profit from the cards.

Contis charges customers significantly less for it's CredEcardPlus than Transline does with a similar product.

"They effectively have a gun to their heads."

Employees are not given a copy of any contract for the cards and the fees only came to light because an applicant took a picture of the list of fees as they were signing up earlier in the year.

If 1,000 workers at Shirebrook take out the cards for a year, we estimate that Contis can't account for £960,000 in recovered charges.

The company claimed they did receive a kickback from the cards, but couldn't state how much

Luke Primarolo fo Unite said the cards were a 'tax on low-paid workers for the pleasure of accessing their wages'.

Said financial director Jennifer Hardy: "It's all charged by Contis, we don't deduct anything from them.

"You're telling me that that 10 monthly fee goes to Contis?" asked MP Amanda Milling.

"Also we have commercials with them on numbers that are supplied and we get a monthly rebate from them," said Mr Birkby.

"But it's not significant," added Ms Hardy.

When asked how many were using the cards they said: "We'll have to get back to you on that."

The company claim the cards are common place, but Unite assistant general secretary told the inquiry on Tuesday, June 7 they're unique to Transline, and may be bringing workers wages back below minimum wage. "We've not come across them," he said. "We're a union of four million members and we've not seen this level of exploitation in the use of pre-paid debit cards."

Jennifer Hardy admitted the company does receive a rebate from the provider of a company debit card, but this was 'not significant'.

"It's very different for migrant labour to have use of a bank account. They can't provide utility bills, their house is not in their name.

"We believe this is a deduction from wages. If you can't be paid your wages without a charge imposed on you, that should be a deduction from wages," he said.

Contis charges customers significantly less for it's CredEcardPlus than Transline does with a similar product.