The balance of UK governance shifted just a tiny bit on Wednesday, with news that the board of FTSE 250 retailer Sports Direct has appointed its first workers’ representative following a ballot of 23,000 employees.

sports-direct-750x500Alex Balacki, a 30 year old store manager who joined the company as a casual sales assistant when he was 17, was elected from a pool of three candidates identified by an earlier internal review process.

Mr. Balacki will attend all scheduled board meetings over the next 12 months, but will not be made a director. Rather, controlling shareholder Mike Ashley envisions Mr. Balacki’s role as “ensuring that [the workers’] voice is head in the boardroom”. The move comes as part of broader efforts to reform the Company’s image following a torrid period, during which it dropped out of the FTSE 100 having been accused of operating its central depot like a “Victorian workhouse”.

Speaking after Mr. Balacki’s appointment, a union representative called to prioritise persuading the company to offer improved deals to agency workers on insecure contracts.

UK prime minister Theresa May caused angst among many executives when she called for companies to put workers on boards last year. As such, and given that only one FTSE 350 board comprises a bone fide worker director (transport business FirstGroup plc), proceedings at Sports Direct are sure to come under intense scrutiny as a test case of the feasibility and broader applicability of such appointments.

Mr. Balacki’s personal experience will also be viewed by many as a barometer of the depth and authenticity of reforms being led by unpopular chair Keith Hellawell, who many shareholders believe to be an ineffective counterweight to controlling shareholder Mike Ashley.