The Professional Footballers’ Association has invited further criticism of its response to the coronavirus crisis by claiming it would be detrimental to the NHS for Premier League footballers to take a pay cut of 30%.
The union’s defiance in the face of a pandemic that has claimed more than 4,300 lives in Britain coincided with Liverpool becoming the latest high-profile club to put non-playing staff on furlough.
Liverpool announced the measure that will affect around 200 employees as managers, captains and representatives of all 20 Premier League clubs held a conference call to discuss wage reductions, deferrals or a combination of both amid the crisis that has brought the game to a halt.
Players were told the Premier League faces a financial penalty of more than £750m if the season does not resume and broadcasters demand refunds on games that are not played. The pay proposals, outlined at the Premier League stakeholders’ meeting on Friday, will be discussed among squads over the coming days with a view to reaching a collective agreement by the end of the week.
The PFA issued a statement following the meeting, insisting “all Premier League players want to, and will, play their part in making significant financial contributions in these unprecedented times”.
The Liverpool captain, Jordan Henderson, is behind plans to establish a coronavirus fund that will allow players to donate directly to frontline NHS staff. But their efforts have been overshadowed by the PFA’s objection to wage reductions, and the union has now hit back at the health secretary, Matt Hancock, for insisting Premier League players should “play their part” by accepting cuts to their lucrative salaries.
“The players are mindful that as PAYE employees, the combined tax on their salaries is a significant contribution to funding essential public services – which are especially critical at this time,” the PFA statement read. “Taking a 30% salary deduction will cost the Exchequer substantial sums. This would be detrimental to our NHS and other government-funded services.
“The proposed 30% salary deduction over a 12-month period equates to over £500m in wage reductions and a loss in tax contributions of over £200m to the government. What effect does this loss of earning to the government mean for the NHS? Was this considered in the Premier League proposal and did Matt Hancock factor this in when asking players to take a salary cut? It is our priority to finalise the precise details of our commitment as soon as possible. However, to achieve a collective position for all Premier League players – of which there are many different financial and contractual circumstances from club-to-club – will take a bit more time.”
One of the reasons the PFA opposes pay cuts is that top-flight clubs with wealthy owners have the means to pay non-playing staff without asking players to intervene. Liverpool fell into that category on Saturday when joining Newcastle, Tottenham, Norwich and Bournemouth in claiming 80% of non-playing staff wages from the government’s furlough scheme.
Workers in the club’s stores and in-house television studios are among those affected, with various departments shut down since football was suspended on 13 March. Liverpool will pay the remaining 20% of wages to ensure no member of staff is financially disadvantaged, and last month confirmed that match-day and non-match-day staff would be paid while the season is halted.
But the move attracted fierce criticism from the former Reds players Jamie Carragher and Stan Collymore. On 27 February Liverpool announced pre-tax profits of £42m and increased turnover to £533m in the 2018-19 financial year. In 2017-18 they posted a world record pre-tax profit for a football club of £125m.
Carragher tweeted: “Jürgen Klopp showed compassion for all at the start of this pandemic, senior players heavily involved in Premier League players taking wage cuts. Then all that respect & goodwill is lost – poor this, LFC.” Collymore was more forthright, tweeting: “I don’t know of any Liverpool fan of any standing that won’t be anything other than disgusted at the club for furloughing staff. Fellow football fans, furlough is for small business staff to keep those small businesses from going bump. Every Premier League owner has serious cash, and make money from skyrocketing values of clubs, so what aren’t you getting about your owners dipping into their pocket?”
Klopp and a senior players’ committee comprising Henderson, James Milner, Virgil van Dijk and Georginio Wijnaldum have discussed pay reductions with the club’s owner, Fenway Sports Group, since the season was suspended. The manager and players have offered to take measures that would ensure no non-playing staff member loses their job should the crisis continue long-term.
In a statement, the club confirmed: “Even prior to the decision on staff furloughing, there was a collective commitment at senior levels of the club – on and off the pitch – with everyone working towards a solution that secures jobs for employees during this unprecedented crisis. There is ongoing active engagement about the topic of salary deductions. These discussions are complex and as a result the process is ongoing.”