Supporters union ask Liverpool to explain controversial decision to furlough staff

Mohamed Salah Liverpool 2019-20
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Cross-town rivals Everton have opted not to use the government scheme, with reigning champions Man City also continuing to pay employees in full

Spirit of Shankly, the Liverpool supporters’ union, have asked the club to explain its controversial decision to furlough non-playing staff.

The Reds announced on Saturday that they follow Premier League rivals Tottenham, Norwich, Bournemouth and Newcastle by utilising the Government furlough scheme. 

Goal understands that around half its non-playing staff members will be placed on leave, including retail workers, media staff and members of the partnerships team. 

The decision will, sources say, allow the club to save around £750,000 a month across the next 12 weeks. 

Unlike the four other clubs who have made this decision, Liverpool did confirm that all furloughed staff would receive full pay, with the club committed to topping up salaries which exceed the £2,500 a month limit imposed by the Government. The Reds have already said that all matchday and non-matchday staff will be paid in full while the Premier League is suspended.

Their decision to place contracted staff on furlough, though, has attracted widespread criticism, including from within their own supporter-base.

Spirit of Shankly, who work closely with club on a host of issues including ticketing, diversity and fan safety, issued a statement on Saturday evening in which they denied reports in one national newspaper that they had “refused to criticise” Liverpool’s decision.

Anfield gates Liverpool

It read: “Spirit of Shankly want to make it clear that we have not refused to criticise the club. Our chair has been misquoted and misrepresented by a journalist on Twitter looking for clicks.

“On Saturday 4 April, LFC announced they are to furlough non-playing staff. We know no details, yet were asked for a statement. One was given in good faith saying for us the priority is LFC staff being paid 100% of their regular wage.

“During this crisis, many workers have lost or will lose their livelihoods. When it began, SOS contacted LFC to seek assurances that all non-playing staff would be guaranteed to receive 100% wages. We were told this would happen and we made a statement. This was and continues to be our priority.

“Many of our members and the committee have raised concerns that the club intend to use taxpayers’ money to pay staff. We can all agree this is wrong, but again for SOS the prerogative is protecting jobs. It is the club who make the decision on how to pay their staff and they are the ones who need to answer why, if they decide to furlough.

“Our belief is that no million-pound plus profit-making organisation should be relying on taxpayer subsidies in times of crisis, yet football as a money-making industry has been singled out. It is an easy target for the authorities. We are contacting the club now and asking them to explain their position and reasoning. We will report back as soon as we hear back.”

The statement concluded: “SOS have been working tirelessly in our communities over the past couple of weeks delivering food bags to those most in need and being here for people. Where were the journalists then looking for quotes?”

Criticism has rained down since Liverpool’s announcement, with former Reds midfielder Danny Murphy labelling the decision as “grotesque”.

Ex-striker Stan Collymore and Jamie Carragher, the club’s second-highest appearance-maker, took to Twitter to express their dissatisfaction, while Champions League winner Didi Hamann said he was “astonished” that the club took such steps.

“It is contrary to the morals and values of the club I got to know,” wrote the former Germany star.

New Liverpool training ground

Certainly the timing is poor. Only five weeks ago, Liverpool announced record revenues of £533million and a pre-tax profit of £42m. Although they will be affected heavily by the coronavirus crisis – work on their new training complex at Kirkby has been halted, for example – the feeling among many fans is that the club could afford to pay staff without dipping into taxpayers’ money.

The issue of player salaries, meanwhile, remains under discussion – both at Liverpool and across the Premier League. 

It was revealed on Friday that Jordan Henderson, the Reds captain, was organising a coronavirus fund that aims to raise funds for NHS workers. Henderson has contacted the captains of the 19 other Premier League clubs asking for support and the fund, which will be open to all players, is expected to raise millions of pounds.

Liverpool’s senior players’ group – led by Henderson but also featuring James Milner, Virgil van Dijk and Gini Wijnaldum – have, along with manager Jurgen Klopp and his staff, been engaged with Fenway Sports Group, the club’s owners, to discuss the issue of team pay and possible wage deferrals and cuts. 

The club last month made a donation of £40,000 to the St Andrew's Foodbank in North Liverpool, and recently launched ‘LFC Connect’; a social isolation initiative aimed at telephone contact with the most vulnerable in our communities.

On Saturday, as Liverpool were announcing their furlough plans, managers, captains and representatives from all 20 Premier League clubs were taking part in a conference call with the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) over wage reductions or deferrals.

Jordan Henderson Liverpool 2019-20

Players were told that 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, revealed at the Premier League stakeholders’ meeting on Friday, will be discussed by clubs over the coming days, with the PFA hoping a collective agreement can be reached this 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”.

They did, however, add that: “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.

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“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 [UK health secretary] 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.”