Living Wage in Scottish Football

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at on 8 September 2016.

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Photo of John Finnie John Finnie Green

I congratulate James Dornan on his motion. Like the previous speaker, Ruth Maguire, I declare that I am a Heart of Midlothian season ticket holder and a member of the Foundation of Hearts, and I occasionally sit beside her when we both get to the game.

I am also an accredited living wage employer, as I know a number of my colleagues are. To pick up a point that my colleague Douglas Ross made, there is an important promotional role for all of us who are connected with the living wage. My wish to promote it is not related exclusively to football or to any other area; I believe that there is an obligation on us to promote it wherever possible. The levels of inequality that exist in this very rich society are a damning indictment on all of us, and we know that in-work poverty is a significant part of that.

My party talks a lot about pay ratios. An example of income inequality that previous speakers have mentioned is the disparity between the incomes of people who are in the same organisation. We know that, in the year in which Hearts took its decision, the top 10 per cent of earners had 15 per cent more wealth than the bottom 40 per cent combined. That is a damning indictment, and it represented an increase on the previous year.

The world is full of statistics, but the bottom line is that they often relate to individuals. The press release that accompanied Hearts’ announcement mentioned Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, describing the club’s decision as

“an important step forward for the campaign to end poverty pay”.

He said:

“Almost two in three children in poverty in Scotland live in a household where someone works, and the Living Wage is a vital tool in lifting people out of in-work poverty.”

Importantly, he went on to say:

“Football clubs have an important role in communities across Scotland.”

That has been alluded to—football clubs are an extremely important part of our society.

Another declaration that I would like to make is that I am a member of Oxfam. Last night, I had the privilege of being at a meeting in the Parliament at which Oxfam released its report “Decent work for Scotland’s low-paid workers: A job to be done”, which followed work that it had commissioned from the University of the West of Scotland and the Warwick institute for employment research. The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, Keith Brown, attended the event, and the positive response that he gave to the report was very well received. The report makes a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government and employers.

The project involved the use of street sampling, surveys and another method whose name escapes me. It involved 1,500 people across Scotland. There are various tables in the report about the priorities for decent work. It will not surprise anyone that the top priority that was identified by focus group participants was a decent hourly rate, which the report describes as

“An hourly rate or salary that is enough to cover basic needs such as food, housing and things most people take for granted without getting into debt”.

Oxfam has been involved in a lot of creative work, particularly around the humankind index, which has shown that people’s aspirations are fairly modest. People just want enough. I do not think that that is too much to ask in an industry such as football, in which obscene sums of money change hands. At the most recent game that I was at, I got a pie—some people might think that I got more than one. I was delighted that the young woman who served me said, “And enjoy the game after.” I enjoyed the fact that that person was properly remunerated.

As has been said, it is also good for business for staff to be properly remunerated. In its literature, the Living Wage Foundation quotes someone saying:

“Introducing the Living Wage is not only the right thing to do for our co-workers; it also makes good business sense. This is a long-term investment in our people based on our values and our belief that a team with good compensation and working conditions is in a position to provide a great experience to our customers.”

I am not going to promote the company concerned—it is a large Scandinavian furniture company. I want people to do things because they are the right thing to do and because they make sense. I like the fact that, in its press release on becoming a living wage employer, Hearts said:

“The club feels that implementing the Living Wage is entirely in keeping with the values that we hold dear as Edinburgh’s oldest football club.”

Those values are a sense of community and a sense of social justice.

I commend the motion and thank James Dornan for bringing the matter to Parliament.