A group of supporter trust members have started a campaign to persuade Supporters Direct (SD) to continue to pay one of their staff members, whose statutory sick pay expires next week.
The#Justice4Jac campaign is accompanied by a fundraising initiative to raise finances for Jacqui Forster, the longest-serving employee at Supporters Direct. She has been working for the organisation – which helps fans to set up democratic co-operatives (known as supporters’ trusts) to gain influence in the running and ownership of their clubs – for 13 years.
Ms Forster was diagnosed with terminal secondary cancer last year. Her statutory sick pay entitlement expires next week, as per her contractual terms and conditions. Statutory sick pay is paid by employers for up to 28 weeks of sickness, with employers having to pay at least the standard rate of £88.45 a week.
The decision to stop paying Ms Forster’s salary is opposed by two former SD board members, Kris Stewart and Elaine Dean, who were not present at the vote and had already decided to resign from the board at the time it was taken.
The Justice4Jac group comprises four ex-vice chairs and 10 recent former directors, including the founding chair of AFC Wimbledon as well as other trust board members and ordinary members. The campaign is also calling for a special general meeting, where the individual members aim to table a motion of no confidence in the board of Supporters Direct.
Former board member Malcolm Turner commented: “I remember well when SD was in what could have become an existential crisis itself, how the co-operative movement stepped up and effectively saved the organisation. It’s what co-operators do. We look after each other when hard times come. There are no harder times than those Jacqui faces today.
“I sincerely hope the current board of SD is able to move quickly and look again at this decision and to rescind it whilst there is still time for it to have a material effect. I also call upon others in supporters’ trusts who have benefited from Jacqui’s great work and who, like me, feel that ethical organisations should not treat loyal and committed team members in this way, to make their views known to the current Board members of Supporters Direct.”
A statement issued by the group of 14 former board member highlights Ms Forster’s “tireless” work for the organisation. “Now, in her hour of need, the support and compassion which should be forthcoming from her employer is found wanting,” it reads.
“This goes beyond company law and terms and conditions. Supporters Direct should never just rely on legislation in how it deals with urgent matters, especially this. Instead, the organisation should be helping Jacqui as she deals with a dreadful situation. Anyone who has had involvement with Supporters Direct would, we are sure, expect this too.
“We raise this because we want everyone in football who knows Jacqui Forster to show her their support and equally make their own judgment about her employer who, in our view, has let her down disgracefully.”
Jacqui Forster joined SD in 2003 and is currently head of casework and constitutional affairs, providing support to trust secretaries in particular. Last year she received the Supporters Direct Richard Lillicrap award, which is given annually to someone who provides outstanding support and advice to others in the supporters’ trust movement.
In a message to members, SD chair, Brian Burgess, said the organisation was under pressure to “do more with less”.
“We note that former SD board members have publicly aired concerns about recent board decisions relating to a member of SD staff,” he said. “These are private and confidential employment matters and it would be inappropriate for us to comment on them publicly. We hope, however, that members will understand that we seek to act at all times in the best interests of all SD members, all SD staff, and the entire supporters trust movement.”
The SD board contacted SD members on 19 September to explain the near-term funding challenges SD faces. A further statement from the organisation added that board members have a duty to act in the best interests of “all members, all employees and the entire supporters trust movement”.
“Every decision [the board makes] must take into account the consequences for the whole organisation and its ability to continue its mission. As is the case in all co-operative, charitable and third sector organisations, at times these decisions can be incredibly difficult,” said the statement.