Thousands of casual workers at some of English football’s biggest stadiums have been left unpaid during the Covid-19 shutdown, the Guardian understands.
A number of employees from Delaware North – which provides catering and hospitality services at venues such as the Emirates Stadium, London Stadium, Wembley, Craven Cottage and the Ricoh Arena – have contacted the Guardian after seeing booked shifts cancelled and receiving no payments since the Premier League season halted last month.
Some of the workers, who are on zero-hour or casual arrangements, feel increasingly desperate. The casual workers complain the company has told them there are no shifts for them because of the impact of Covid-19 and that it is trying to establish whether they are eligible to be furloughed under the government’s coronavirus job retention scheme.
The situation puts Arsenal and West Ham at risk of embarrassment. Both clubs announced they would continue paying their casual employees as normal while fixtures are not taking place and there is no suggestion that this is not the case. But their statements left unclear the fact that a sizeable majority of casual work – also including cleaning and security-based jobs – at matches and other events is undertaken by workers from contracted companies who do not operate on the clubs’ payrolls. Many Delaware North workers will be familiar faces to players, management and directors at both Premier League clubs, some of whom will know them as colleagues they see numerous times over the course of a season.
A long-standing casual employee at one of the venues told the Guardian that they work there for up to five days a week but saw that income stream removed as soon as the season was paused. They said they had received no payment for the shifts they had committed to.
Casual workers were sent an email on Saturday, seen by the Guardian, in which Delaware North said it was awaiting “definitive guidance” on whether they were eligible to be furloughed and that the company would make it a priority to put them on that scheme if possible.
“We are taking legal advice but until there is definitive guidance allowing you to undertake paid work for others whilst on furlough we will be maintaining this cautious stance,” the email said. It added: “If you wish to work for another company at this time, think this is unfair, there is of course the option to ask to be P45’d so that you can accept an offer of work elsewhere. You are always more than welcome to re-register with us when this is over.”
According to the government’s scheme, casual staff who work variable hours and are paid by PAYE – which is understood to apply to most of Delaware North’s workforce – may be eligible for the 80% wage guarantee, with their previous pay acting as a benchmark for furlough pay. The Guardian has learned that, at the highest end of the scale, zero-hours employees who in effect work full-time at Delaware North could stand to lose the government maximum contribution of £2,500 a month if not furloughed.
There is little other work available in a hospitality industry that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 crisis and there are also suggestions that some have had trouble applying for universal credit due to a lack of certainty about their status. Delaware North’s casual workforce encompasses a wide range of personal circumstances. For some it is a sole source of income, whereas others have a second job.
Some of Delaware North’s peers have openly taken steps to help some of their workers. A spokesperson acting on behalf of Compass, which supplies hospitality staff to Spurs, told the Guardian that regular workers – which Compass considers to denote those who have worked at least 40 hours over the past four months – are being paid their wages in full for the first two weeks of the shutdown, with 80% thereafter in line with the government scheme.
Delaware North is yet to respond to a number of emails and phone messages. When asked whether it might be fruitful for a club to pressurise a contractor to remunerate their staff, Arsenal and West Ham both pointed out that the issue was separate to the clubs. The Guardian understands that Arsenal are in regular liaison with Delaware North.