Forgotten by football: Coronavirus and the Bundesliga’s matchday workers

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Despite making up more than 60 percent of the workers in Germany’s top two divisions, little support is being offered to those working for third-party companies who have lost their income due to the coronavirus outbreak.

With players and executives taking pay cuts in order for clubs to continue paying salaries to their non-playing staff, the wave of solidarity on show in German football has been remarkable. But one of the weakest links in the sporting chain has been overlooked.

More than 60 percent of the 56,081 matchday jobs in Germany’s top two divisions are staffed by third parties rather than the clubs themselves. These “indirect jobs,” including security, catering and cleaning services, have been severely affected by the lack of football.

Loss of income and desperation

Sarah, who requested we don’t use her real name, has been working for a company providing services to a Bundesliga club on matchdays for several months. She describes her work as “the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

But with matchdays postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sarah’s income has dried up and she only avoided becoming homeless after friends took her in.

“When the Bundesliga got postponed, my wage went down to zero,” she tells DW. “Once it was announced that the Bundesliga wouldn’t be played, my main source of income became irrelevant. I felt desperate.”

Lack of awareness and fears over loss of jobs

Verena Speckin is a Rostock-based lawyer who specializes in labor law. She tells DW that those employed by third-party service providers deserve to have work benefits like everyone else.

“Germany’s labor laws do not differentiate between people who work full time, part time or only a few hours a week,” Speckin tells DW.

Legally, however, Speckin says football clubs only bear responsibility towards those who have contracts with them, leaving those employed by third-party companies to deal with their employers. But they often think twice.

“The challenge many employees face is the fear and pressure of losing their livelihood,” she explains, noting that working in a football stadium up close to stars can be an extra reason not to risk their job.

“Many decide to keep silent and choose not to do anything so that they’ll be able to keep their job.”

No direct support

Speaking to DW, a German Football League (DFL) spokesperson said while they could not comment on contracts signed by clubs and third party companies, some of those employed by third-party companies would be able to get back to work if games were to be played behind closed doors.

DFL boss Christian Seifert recently announced that Germany’s top two divisions will be postponed until at least the end of April, with some reports suggesting the league is looking at ways to resume play behind closed doors in May.

Of the 18 Bundesliga clubs, eight responded when asked about what, if any, support was being provided to those employed by third parties on matchdays.

Borussia Dortmund referred to the various social initiatives run by the club. Werder Bremen and Union Berlin stated their primary responsibility was their own employees. RB Leipzig said they would “do their best” to make sure no jobs are lost, but that they will also search for ways to reduce costs.

Fortuna Düsseldorf said they’re in constant contact with their partners, but added that they “cannot help everyone.”

Cologne are offering both full-time and part-time employees affected by the postponements the chance to take part in the club’s social activities, but the club did not respond when asked whether they had any plans to support matchday personnel not directly employed by the club. Schalke would not comment on internal matters.

The only club that stated it has plans to support third-party “club partners” whose livelihoods are placed in jeopardy due to the loss of matchday income was Hoffenheim, although they wouldn’t elaborate on the details.

Catering firm Aramark, which provides services at many Bundesliga stadiums, although not at Hoffenheim, declined to comment when asked whether they have plans in place to support their employees affected by the situation.

‘Without us, football wouldn’t be possible’

In short, no Bundesliga club was able to offer DW assurances that their third-party matchday staff would continue to receive any direct financial remuneration. Despite all that, Sarah insists she will return to her position once the situation allows the Bundesliga season to resume.

“I don’t think anyone stops and thinks about the role people like us play in making Bundesliga matchdays what they are,” she says. “Every single one of us keeps this business going, not only players, staff and executives. Without us, a football game just wouldn’t be possible.”

DW

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