Refs agree deal to keep SPL kick-off on track
The Scottish Premier League have confirmed their season will start on time this weekend after they agreed to pay referees £800 per game.
Referees were reportedly considering strike action if they did not receive a 40% increase on their £575 match fee, but they have now secured a new deal and agreed to co-operate with a review of their pay in the coming weeks.
SPL operations director Iain Blair said: 'Contrary to speculation earlier today, the Clydesdale Bank Premier League fixtures this weekend will go ahead as planned.'
The Scottish Senior Referees' Association expect the review to cement their interim rise, and they are optimistic that comparisons with leagues on the continent will take their pay above the provisional £800 figure.
The union, headed by referee Stuart Dougal, have been looking for their fee to rise to £1,000 by 2010.
The new deal announced today will also see assistant referees receiving an increase to £400 and fourth officials to £200.
Dougal said: 'The SSFRA today agreed the figure of £800/400/200 as the accepted fee structure for SPL games for the coming season.
'This allows the season to begin as scheduled on Saturday.
'We have further agreed to engage in a benchmarking process with appropriate European leagues.
'We are confident that we will not only secure but enhance the £800 figure we initially proposed.'
Blair added: 'At a meeting today with the SFA and the SSFRA, the SPL undertook to carry out a benchmarking exercise across European football to establish the appropriate fees going forward. The referees are seeking £800 per match.
'This exercise will involve the participation of all parties over the next six weeks or so.'
The pay demands came as a surprise to the SPL, given that a deal was agreed within the last three years which saw referees receive an index-linked pay rise.
But a proposed £25 increase to £600 was met with fierce opposition by the match officials, with the threat of strike action raised.
Their anger was revealed in a series of leaked emails but the recently-retired referee Kenny Clark was able to put forward the grievances of his former colleagues.
Clark told BBC Radio 5 Live: 'There are not any referees who will suggest they should get paid anything like what the players get.
'This is about giving some acknowledgement to the pressures they are under, and their families are under when it comes to media scrutiny.
'We are being asked to be professional, even though were amateur, in the way we conduct ourselves and we just want an increase in fees. In Greece, Norway and Holland they're getting paid more.'
SFA chief executive Gordon Smith was relieved the threat of strike action was lifted this evening.
Smith said: 'I am delighted that both parties have agreed a way forward on this issue.
'The benchmarking exercise that will take place over the next six weeks will allow everyone to work together and the Scottish FA is more than happy to be a part of this process.
'Above all, I am glad that the SPL season will begin as planned on Saturday. Nobody wants to see our national game disrupted in any way.'