THE Scottish Football Association (SFA) faces having to fork out a multi-million pound sum to its referees for unpaid holiday pay dating back decades in the wake of a landmark legal ruling, the Scottish referees branch of the Prospect union has claimed.

The union wrote to SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, who resigned from his position with the governing body yesterday, earlier this month to ask how they intend to comply with updated UK employment law.

The move follows the outcome of a long-running dispute between British window salesman Conley King and his former employers, the Sash Window Workshop, in November.

Loading article content

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that King is entitled to claim up to £27,000 for holiday pay he was denied between 1999 and 2012 - a decision with huge ramifications for workers in the so-called “gig economy”.

Prospect believe Scottish referees – who they say merit the same worker status their colleagues in England and Wales currently enjoy – now have grounds to claim for unpaid holiday pay retrospectively as a result of the case.

That could leave the SFA, who took over two months to accumulate the £500,000 needed to pay the compensation for Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill, facing an expensive legal challenge and a sizeable bill.

Prospect negotiations officer Ian Perth said: “We have written to the SFA chief executive to ask how they are planning to ensure they comply with UK employment law in light of recent litigation that may mean our members would be entitled to claim unpaid holiday pay retrospectively for a number of years.

“Employment tribunals have clarified that referees supplying the SFA should be classed as a ‘worker’ and, while the SFA explicitly suggest they are not classed as a ‘worker’ or ‘employee’, we believe this is legally incorrect.

“Equivalent referees with worker status in England and Wales also receive pension entitlements as well as other significant benefits.

“As the SFA continue to refuse to recognise Prospect or engage in discussions and cite the Scottish Senior Football Referees’ Association (SSFRA) as the sole negotiating body, we are seeking a meeting with the SSFRA, to try and understand what actions they have taken to seek these entitlements for referees.”

He added: “The importance of this case is that there is now a financial risk. It would be up to an employment judge to decide how much referees are due, but we believe it could be substantial. It could be for years and years of unpaid holiday pay.

“Normally, when you make a retrospective claim, the farthest you can go back is three months. But in this case it has been changed. It has been backdated to 1999.

“I have done an estimation myself. Some referees could be looking for up to 80 weeks’ pay. You could have around 200 or so referees looking for that.

“It obviously isn’t standard pay they will be looking for, it is match fees. But some of the weekly pay would be up in the hundreds. Multiply that by 80 and then by 200 and it becomes a substantial sum.”

Referees in England and Wales, including those who officiate at matches at Premier League, Championship and League One and Two level are currently recognised as workers and receive pension entitlements as well as other benefits, but in Scotland the SFA classify referees as “self-employed”.

But former Category One referee Steve Conroy sued the SFA for unfair dismissal, age discrimination and holiday pay back in 2013.

An Employment Appeals Tribunal dismissed Conroy’s case - but ruled that he was an employee under the Equality Act 2010 and a worker under Working Time Regulations Act 1998 during it.

Two Uber drivers won a ground-breaking case against the global taxi technology company in November after successfully arguing they were workers and were entitled to minimum wage, sick pay, paid holidays and breaks.

“This is about recognising referees have got rights,” said Mr Perth. “It is no different from Uber. They argued their drivers weren’t workers. But a tribunal recognised that they are.

“The SFA say referees in this country aren’t workers. But there have been four or five legal cases of people who were deemed to have worker status. Uber was a very interesting one and the ruling was beneficial to Scottish referees.

“The SFA don’t believe referees are workers, but we have received legal advice to that affect as well. It’s very straightforward.

“What a lot of companies have looked to do is get around a negotiating table. But the SFA refuse to recognise the Scottish Referees Branch of the Prospect Union. It may reach a stage where we will have no option but to go down a legal route.”

An SFA spokesman declined to comment on private correspondence with Prospect, but stated they were in regular contact with the SSFRA and were unaware of any concerns about their status.