RANGERS shareholder Mike Ashley has been criticised for using "disgraceful" and "unlawful" employment practices after losing a legal case against 50 former employees.

The workers, who were employed by his ailing clothing chain USC, have all secured a protected redundancy payout after the firm - which is now in control of administrators Duff & Phelps - gave them just 15 minutes' notice before they lost their jobs.

It is understood that the payouts could run to thousands of pounds for each employee.

A total of 88 workers were made redundant at the company's warehouse in Dundonald, Ayrshire, in January this year.

The way the job losses were dealt with prompted fierce criticism of Sports Direct, the firm's parent company, and Mr Ashley.

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Thompsons Solicitors, who represented the workers at an employment tribunal in Glasgow, said the decision showed that employers cannot mistreat staff in the way Sports Direct did.

Rory McPherson, the partner in charge of Thompsons employment law department, said: "This judgement from the tribunal is very good news for the former employees at Dundonald who brought the case.

"They showed courage in standing up to and beating a rich and powerful employer like Mike Ashley who used disgraceful and unlawful employment practices.

"I’m very glad that this law firm was able to help the workers involved and call on politicians in both Holyrood and Westminster to do all they can to stop employers like Mr Ashley thinking they can ride roughshod over workers' rights."

The tribunal heard that the firm was aware of financial difficulties and a possibility of administration as far back as November 2014.

Stock was removed from the warehouse on January 7, and there were rumours that the warehouse was to close, but the staff were never officially informed.

HeraldScotland: Fashion retailer USC announced it has called in administrators

A written judgment on the case - which was not defended by USC - states: "A staff meeting was called for 14 January. At that meeting a letter was given to all employees regarding the situation.

"After approximately 15 minutes given to employees to digest the contents of that letter a second pre-prepared letter was issued to employees.

"That letter referred to there having been consultation and it intimated redundancies. The employees were dismissed in terms of that letter.

"There had in fact been no discussion or consultation regarding alternatives of information as to redundancies."

The protective award issued means that Duff & Phelps will have to set money aside for the former employees. Employment judge Robert Gall said the workers should each receive 90 days' redundancy.

At the time the workers were made redundant, Fergus Ewing, Holyrood's Business Minister, spoke of his "extreme concern and disappointment" at the conduct of Sports Direct.

Representatives from the Scottish Government attempted to contact bosses and offer support to employees but were unsuccessful.

Officials from PACE - the Scottish Government initiative designed to offer advice to redundant workers - attended the warehouse at Dundonald following unsuccessful attempts to get in touch with company bosses, but were denied access to the site for several days.

The Scottish Affairs Select Committee at Westminster also called on Mr Ashley to give evidence on the handling of the situation, as well as the general treatment of Sports Direct workers, but the company's chairman Keith Hellawell attended instead.

There was suggestion that Mr Ashley could still be called before the committee but members are awaiting a response from the UK Government to their report on the issue before they decide the next course of action.

Duff & Phelps refused to comment on the case.