This article by Aston Villa fan Dave Partridge appears in the August 2015 edition of Heroes & Villains fanzine. Fans of the club are central to a new effort to persuade Aston Villa FC to become an accredited Living Wage Employer this season, and will carry out their first public action at the club’s first home game.
During a forum at the Villa Supporters’ Trust AGM in February, it was put to Tom Fox whether Aston Villa FC would be supporting the Living Wage Campaign. Like any decent person would do, Tom Fox replied that he thought all staff should be paid the Living Wage, in fact he was quite incredulous as to why the minimum wage in the UK was not a wage that someone could afford to live off. However, the Villa CEO also stated that he believed this was a matter for the government to address and that it wasn’t down to individual employers to ensure staff are paid the Living Wage. That may be true, but in the meantime individual employers can do the right thing by their workforce - particularly employers who are better off than ever and seen as role models by many.
At the time of the Trust AGM Chelsea had already committed to paying their staff the Living Wage. Since then Norwich City have also began working towards paying it to all permanent and agency staff, with the aim of achieving full implementation across their business by the 2016-17 season. Meanwhile back in B6 Villa have so far neglected to answer the request of Citizens UK, a community alliance of faith, education, trade union, diaspora and youth groups from across the city, working together for the common good, for a meeting to discuss the issue.
Many people from working families are now in poverty and while the recent proposed increase in minimum wage to £7.20 an hour is a welcome one, no one should be fooled by George Osborne’s contrivance in coining the increase a “national living wage”. The chancellor’s figure works out at around £25 a week less than the sum calculated by the Living Wage Foundation. That’s roughly equivalent to my weekly shop at the supermarket.
The Living Wage Campaign has already had a number of successes across the country and has won workers over £210 million of additional wages, lifting over 40,000 families out of working poverty. At present around two thirds of staff employed by Aston Villa receive an income above the minimum wage. This clearly means that a third, who consist largely of match day staff, are paid the basic minimum wage. To put that into context, it means that hundreds of people without whom Villa Park wouldn’t be able to stage a game – stewards, turnstile operators, catering and waiting staff – earn less than the price of a match ticket.
This is unacceptable for a club of the size of Aston Villa, particularly given the ever-increasing riches of the Premier League, and many people are rightly critical of the club for not being signed up to the Living Wage Campaign. By becoming the first Living Wage-accredited football club in the Midlands and paying all their staff appropriately, the club would not only set a good example to companies in the rest of the Midlands, it would also show that Aston Villa FC is, as it always has been, an institution that understands its central role in the local community.
The campaign has received support from a wide range of people around the club, from fans to employees. Matthew Tehan, head of St Chad’s Primary School in Newtown and a season ticket holder at Villa Park said:
“As a Headteacher of a school that serves the inner city, I know the struggle that most of our families have. They work for the national minimum wage and it's not enough. My club should be willing to stand up and act for the good of the community.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many fans of the club. Rev Leo Osborn, Chair of the Newcastle upon Tyne District of the Methodist Church, stated that:
“As a Villa fan for nearly sixty years I’m delighted to support the campaign to encourage Aston Villa F.C. to become Living Wage accredited. I know the club is proud of its Methodist roots - a Christian denomination which has always been at the forefront of seeking fairness in the workplace and support for the most vulnerable in our society – and hope that Aston Villa will once again be seen as leading the way in this regard”.
While it’s encouraging to see support for the initiative amongst the Villa Park faithful it is the staff that will benefit most from the club signing up to the agreement. Jade Mount, a cook who works at Villa Park on match days has given an idea of how it will help her:
“I think it would boost the morale of the young cashiers enormously and improve the general atmosphere of working in a high intensity kitchen….if everyone knows they can live off their wage it will mean we are all more happy at work and serving the hundreds of hungry fans!”
Match day isn’t only a stressful experience for some of the long suffering faithful - another cook employed at Villa is Sam Lowe, who says:
“The atmosphere for the staff is one of stress, the work is fast paced, a huge rush, followed by clearing and preparing more food and drinks for the next rush. Staff need to be highly organised and skilled for it to all run smoothly. The electric atmosphere of the ground is not felt by the staff and morale always seemed to be low, a reason for this is the low wages do not reflect the hard-work and skill they contribute to ensure fans are served promptly and to a high standard”.
Sam goes on to explain the positive impact she thinks the Living Wage would have on match day staff:
“Introducing the Living Wage to staff at Villa Park would be a great step in rewarding the hard work of the staff, who as agency staff, are regularly working all over the city at many different locations 6-7 days a week, paying their own travel costs just to make ends meet”.
Becoming Living Wage-accredited would not only help lift the spirit and income of match day staff but also help boost the sense of pride felt by fans of the club. No disrespect, but if the likes of Luton, Hearts and Norwich can sign up to the initiative then there’s no reason that a club of Villa’s standing shouldn’t follow suit. Since 1874, through good times and bad, we have a long and noble history of doing the right thing. From forming the first ex-players’ team in the world back in the 1880s through to modern initiatives such as VMF [Villa Midlands Food, an award winning restaurant] and the Acorns sponsorship deals the club has fostered close and admirable links with the local community.
It is understood that another Midlands club might be looking into supporting the campaign and it would be remiss of us to ignore the opportunity to once more lead the way and show why we’re the pride of the Midlands.