Arsenal FC’s 60,000-seat Emirates stadium is in the sliver of north London I’m elected to represent. Gooners, as the club’s fans are known, pay some of the highest ticket prices in the land to watch matches there, swelling the coffers of the sixth biggest football brand in the world. Mesut Őzil, one of their star players, is paid £130,000 a week. The club’s Chief Executive, Ivan Gazidis, takes home £2 million a year. And yet hundreds of staff who work at the Emirates get paid well below the Living Wage, which in London is £8.80 an hour. Some of them are directly employed by Arsenal; others are the club’s contractors, employed by companies like Delaware North. They include caterers, cleaners, porters, programme sellers and stewards.
John F Kennedy once asked a cleaner at NASA what they did. They replied, ‘I help put men on the moon’. Everyone who works at the Emirates, in whatever guise, is a part of Team Arsenal. ‘Victory through teamwork’ is the club’s Latin motto, emblazoned in giant letters all around the ground. But many of its staff would have to work full-time for seven years to earn what Őzil does in seven days.
Citizens UK, who have led the Living Wage campaign since 2001, have lobbied the club for over six months now to become a Living Wage employer, meeting with senior Arsenal executives and asking questions at the club’s Annual General Meeting. We at Islington Council have written to the club repeatedly over the same period to urge them to follow our lead by going Living Wage. These meetings and letters have borne no fruit. Arsenal’s position, for now, is that unless the law is changed to force them to pay the Living Wage, they won’t.
The club cites four excuses for this, none of which wash. First, they argue that some people working at the club have second jobs. We point out that this is because they have to, as they are not paid enough for one job to make ends meet. Second, they say that workers’ remuneration packages as a whole add up to more than the Living Wage. But the Living Wage campaign is about cash in a worker’s pocket, which they can spend freely, not other perks. Third, they complain that the campaign is too political. We say that if tackling the scourge of working poverty in one of the world’s most expensive cities is political, then so be it. Finally, they point out that many of the workers in question are contractors, and so suggest it’s the contracting companies’ problem, not the club’s. We think this is an abject abrogation of responsibility when these staff are working on Arsenal’s premises on Arsenal’s behalf.
Islington Council’s civic leadership on this issue has meant that the borough now has the highest concentration of accredited Living Wage employers anywhere in the country. They include public sector organisations like Ambler School and Children’s Centre, charities like Child Poverty Action Group and private companies ranging from large city firms such as Slaughter & May to small enterprises like Schools Offices Services and Casual Films. Over five per cent of all accredited Living Wage employers in the UK are in Islington. But Arsenal FC, one of the wealthiest and highest profile organisations in the borough, is not one of them. It’s shameful. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Arsenal could be the first Living Wage team in the Premiership, the most lucrative football league in the world. It could lead the way by showing that fair play on the pitch can be matched by fair pay off it. If it did, it would earn resounding plaudits not only from thousands of fans and from local residents here in Highbury and Holloway but also from all those nationally and internationally who campaign against poverty pay. In doing so, it would join the ranks of over 550 accredited Living Wage employers who have between them put £210 million of additional wages into the pockets of hard working people, lifting 40,000 families out of working poverty. For hundreds of workers at the club, it would mean earning enough to live on, not just enough to survive. It would mean a decent wage, not a handout, affirming the dignity of work. Most importantly, it would mean quitting that second job, getting some sleep and spending some time with their family.
So, despite Mr Gazidis’s misguided reluctance, we call upon the fans, the manager, the board, the sponsors and past and present players to join with us in urging Arsenal FC to do the right thing. Arsenal should pay the Living Wage, because no-one should have to do a hard day’s work for less than they can live on, especially at one of the richest football clubs on earth.
This article was originally published on the Football Beyond Borders website - http://fbeyondborders.tumblr.com
Cllr Andy Hull is a Labour Member for Highbury West and the Executive Member for Finance at Islington Council. He tweets at @AndyHull79.