English assistants among worst paid in Europe
┬À Calls for an annual retainer are rejected
On the eve of the Premier League season it has emerged that the officials running the line in the weekend’s opening fixtures are embroiled in a bitter pay dispute with their employer. While Premier League referees receive about ┬ú57,000 a year plus match fees, select group assistants, or linesmen as they are more commonly known, can collect as little as ┬ú145 a week, prompting demands for improved wages and parity with their European counterparts.
The disparity in earnings means that the select group assistants have little choice but to combine officiating at the highest level with holding down a regular job, a balancing act that is becoming fraught with difficulties. Indeed one source said he knew of two select group assistants who had fallen asleep at the wheel last season when travelling back from midweek matches because of the need to return home for work the next day.
Mindful of those pressures, the select group assistants called for the introduction of a ┬ú5,000 annual retainer as well as significantly higher match fees. However, Professional Game Match Officials Limited, the select group assistants’ employer, has refused to agree to the concept of the retainer and this week approved match fee pay rises that were far lower than those for which officials had hoped.
Prospect, the independent trade union representing the officials, is “unhappy” with the response from the PGMO and said select group assistants were being undervalued. “Assistant referees are not getting properly rewarded for the arduous and difficult job they do,” said Alan Leighton, Prospect’s national secretary.
In a letter to the PGMO in May Leighton called for improved pay, terms and conditions for the select group assistants, claiming “their remuneration lags well behind that of assistant referees elsewhere in Europe”. He also cited the “extra pressure” assistant referees in the Premier League now come under because they are “becoming more publicly accountable for their decisions”.
Leighton also claims that select group assistants often have to sacrifice career progression in their workplace – international or European fixtures necessitate three days off – while running the risk of picking up an injury that means going without match fees for a period as well as sometimes being given a Football League game where the financial rewards are reduced.
However, the PGMO, which is funded by the Premier League, the Football League and the Football Association, refused to bow to their employees’ demands, rejecting the retainer idea as well as a proposal to introduce ┬ú500 match fees in all competitions. Instead it said it would increase match fees in the Premier League from ┬ú350 to ┬ú375, in the FA Cup from ┬ú300 to ┬ú375 and in the Football League and Carling Cup from ┬ú135 to ┬ú145.
“Even if the claim was met in full, we would be talking about rewards that are considerably lower than many other parts of Europe, when we’re talking about the Premier League being the richest league in the world,” said Leighton, who pointed out that the match fee for select group assistants in La Liga and the Bundesliga is ┬ú1,200 and that officials doing the same job in Denmark and Norway also earn significantly more than in England.
“This is a sign of what the problem is,” added Leighton. “We have had cases where select group assistants have been on the line in the freezing cold and are soaking wet and, while the referee is getting into a new, clean, dry shirt at half-time, the assistant is shivering because they will provide them with only one of each of the three coloured shirts. [The PGMO] are saying we are negotiating so you can get the shirts at cost – basically, they’re having to pay for their own kit.”
The PGMO would not comment last night and a Premier League spokesman said “officials’ fees are a matter for the PGMO, not the Premier League”.