Living Wage in Scottish Football

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

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Photo of James Dornan James Dornan Scottish National Party

I thank Willie

Smith and Scott Robertson, who have been fighting for fairness for our young football players for many years. Without their tenacity and determination to do the right thing, we would not be having this debate today.

Scottish football employs thousands of people across the industry. The scale of football is no longer 22 men on a pitch with a referee in the middle. Football runs on a commercial basis now. Stadiums no longer host events only on a Saturday afternoon; they are a constant venue for conferences, parties, charity events, concerts and training days. Footballing organisations employ cleaners, cooks and administrative staff. Even the humble pie takes an employed person to reach the hands of supporters. On match days, staff can work, long, taxing and physical hours, running from one end of the ground to the other, yet many of those people will be on less than the living wage.

Football is one of the most—if not the most—influential sports in the world. Billions of people around the globe are engaged with the sport. The 2014 world cup reached an audience of 3.2 billion people, and 695 million people watched the final live. That is approximately 15 per cent of the world’s population—that is some figure. That is the reach of the beautiful game.

We are all aware of the benefits that sports have in creating healthy communities—at least, we are now; we did not use to be. Football is now more than a sport that is focused on the big teams and their players; it is a vital community engagement tool. The sport is breaking down barriers and bringing people together.

Football also provides multiple benefits for physical and mental health. It supports good mental health through increased confidence and a sense of belonging and team spirit and as a tool to reduce stress. The physical benefits are just as impressive. Recent research suggests that playing football is better for us than going for a run or lifting weights—that is good, because I was rubbish at both. The physical health benefits of football include a reduction in the risk of heart disease and in cholesterol, and it is a means of challenging obesity.

I had the pleasure of attending the University of Glasgow institute of health and wellbeing and Scottish Professional Football League Trust event in the Parliament on Tuesday night, which highlighted the good work that Scotland’s football clubs are carrying out in many areas. There is clear evidence that it is no longer just men who feel the social impact of the game and that football is also reaching older people, women and children.

Given its power and its dependence on support from all members of society, traditionally those from working-class areas, football has a responsibility to ensure that it does the right thing by the people it employs, even if only by setting a good example to others.

For years, it has been understood that football has a massive impact on poverty. An attendee at a recent forum, attended by senior UNICEF figures, professional footballers and sports advisers, concluded:

“The resounding message was that sport does indeed have the ability to affect positive change and promote international development. Of course, it should not be seen as a silver bullet to the problem of poverty and disadvantage. The power of sport to affect change is as a tool, within a broader toolkit.”

Sport has been found to have a profound effect on community health, education and morale, and clubs should not ignore their responsibilities. In that regard, I congratulate Heart of Midlothian Football Club and its forward-thinking chief executive and chair, Ann Budge, on Hearts being the first club in the United Kingdom to be an accredited living wage employer. For a club that has had financial difficulties in recent years, that is a remarkable achievement, which highlights, first, that becoming an accredited living wage employer can be done and, secondly, that benefits accrue from doing so. What better way to impact on poverty than to pay people a living wage?

Some clubs pay their own staff the living wage but are not accredited, because of contracts elsewhere. However, it is unfortunately the case that not all clubs are following the example of Hearts. The disparity between the two biggest Glasgow clubs could not be starker. Rangers Football Club—another club with massive financial difficulties in recent seasons—has made huge steps towards becoming accredited. Only some historical contracts with outside suppliers of services are stopping the club in that regard.

The team that I support, however, has made it clear that it does not support the living wage. I should make it clear that it is the board of the team that I support that has made that clear; most of the fans that I have spoken to certainly support the living wage. I understand that one of the reasons that the club gave for its stance was that paying the living wage would have a knock-on effect on other wages. If Hearts and Rangers, with their financial issues, can afford to pay the living wage, I see no reason why the biggest and richest club in Scotland is unable to do so.

Many of us grew up with tales of how Celtic Football Club started out to help people who needed assistance. Maybe the board should get to know the club’s history and reconsider its position. I am aware of thousands of Celtic fans who agree with me on that—even if they do not always agree with me on other things. I am also aware that Unite the union’s youth committee wrote to Celtic today with a number of questions about the club’s use of zero-hours contracts and about its commitment—or lack thereof—to the living wage. I look forward to seeing the club’s response.

Scottish Football Association staff are paid a rate that is above the minimum wage, at roughly £10 per hour across the board, which is another step towards positive change.

I have spoken to representatives across players’ unions, and it is recognised that some young players are paid even less than the minimum wage. I spoke about the work that Willie Smith and Scott Robertson have been doing to protect young players. There are issues to do with the length of the journeys that young boys have to make, often to get just 15 minutes of game time, if they are lucky, Even worse, there have been reports of top-flight clubs paying young players on contracts just £1 a week. Of course, it is any young boy’s dream to play football, but that dream should not be manipulated by clubs to allow them to fail to meet legal and moral commitments.

Clubs are also involved in the modern apprenticeship programme. The Scottish Government says that an apprenticeship is a tool that provides an opportunity to earn a wage while learning skills and achieving an industry-recognised qualification—in other words, tools for life, such as employability, sustainability and a means of living. The Professional Footballers Association Scotland is concerned that some young men at apprenticeship level are not being paid the amount that they are due.

More than that, young footballers who do not make a career from the game, as most do not, are often left without a skill set. On occasions, that has led to people suffering acute mental health issues, sometimes with tragic consequences. One young lad took his own life after being released from his club, which is devastating.

I am not saying for a second that the clubs should be nursemaids, but they have a duty of care to these young kids and they must fulfil it. One way that they could do that is by educating kids, and ensuring that they are, ready for the outside world when they leave the game.

There is no denying that football reaches into the lives of people across Scotland in a way that most other things, including politics, cannot. Although the Parliament aims to increase the number of living wage accredited employers, I firmly believe that organisations that already have a huge impact on Scottish life should lead the way. That is why I encourage the Parliament and urge all football clubs to set a good example, do the right thing and pay the living wage.