Footballers’ 7.5% tax rate to bring secret top-ups out in the open

Professional footballers’ association want removal of paltry ceilings that cap salaries at €350 a month and encourage illegal top-ups as compensation.

Additional reporting by Daniel Mizzi

The Finance Ministry is in discussion with the Malta Football Association (MFA) to introduced a new 7.5% income tax rate, following the introduction of new rules by UEFA, that is believed will encourage football players to declare their income in full.

"We want to ensure conformity and incentivise professional footballers, and we are hoping that with the help of the MFA, football clubs will conform and exit the black economy," finance minister Edward Scicluna announced last week during Budget 2014.

But speaking to MaltaToday, MFA president Norman Darmanin Demajo explained that the tax cut would only apply to part-time Premier League footballers who have their salaries capped at €350 a month, plus a signing-on fee equivalent to half their yearly wage.

Currently part-time footballers plying their trade in the top division cannot earn more than €350 a month, while those playing in the second tier have their monthly wage capped at €200. Players in the third and fourth tiers have their wages capped at €125 and €100 respectively.

On the other hand, professional full-time footballers have their salaries capped between €720 and €1,200 a month and are also eligible to an additional €500 a month in allowances. This ceiling is mainly applied for foreign footballers, however around 12 Maltese footballers are currently registered as full-timers.

Given the miserly ceiling, most clubs come to an agreement with their employees on a net wage, meaning that wages are either augmented by add-ons such as fuel, phone and gym allowances or else enhanced by undeclared payments.

Despite the existence of the ceilings, Maltese and foreign footballers playing for the big clubs earn much more than the set salaries, in some instances earning up to €4,000 a month in top-ups that remain undeclared.

Although such irregularities can land players and clubs hefty suspensions and penalties, these practices have been tacitly accepted by clubs, players and the Maltese football's governing body, however a committee has been set up within the MFA to review the out-dated regulations.

The ceilings remained unchanged since their introduction in the early nineties and the MFA is set to review the ceilings before the start of the new season. Although players are advocating a complete removal of the ceilings, an MFA official explained that by June 2014, new revised ceilings would be introduced to reflect today's realities.

Darmanin Demajo warned that clubs who pay their employees irregularly and fail to pay their national insurance, would risk losing their license as it would breach the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations, and deprive them from competing in European championships.

The tax cut, which has been in the pipeline for over two years, seeks to offset wage discrepancies and to abide by the UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations, Darmanin Demajo noted.

"In an effort to address the miserly wages Maltese part-time footballers receive, the government has implemented this favourable income tax rate to encourage Maltese sportsmen to declare their salaries at a lower income tax rate," he said. "The ball is now in the players' and clubs' court to abide by the new regulations and come clean with the salaries."

Meanwhile, the MFA president underlined that as opposed to foreign countries, particularly the French government, the Maltese administration implemented a lower tax rate to reflect the 'massive' wage discrepancies between Maltese footballers and foreign-based footballers.

This week, France's professional football clubs decided to go on strike on the last weekend of November in protest at President Francois Hollande's new 75% tax for anyone earning €1 million or more a year.

Currently, in Malta part-time footballers theoretically earn up to €350 a month, a salary dwarfed by the rocket-high salary of foreign-based footballers. "As a result, the government and the MFA have agreed to enact this new favourable measure to help part-time footballers," Darmanin Demajo said of the 7.5% tax rate.

He also explained that only part-time footballers can enjoy the new tax-rate and consequently, foreign players, who are often contracted on a full-time basis, are still bound to pay the regular income tax rates.

Meanwhile, the Malta Football Players' Association (MFPA) welcomed the 7.5% income tax rate for football players, describing it as a step in the right direction towards enabling players and clubs regularising their position and status. Spokesperson Konrad Sultana praised the new measure which he believes increases transparency among players, and an incentive for footballers to declare salaries.

"The measure offsets precarious employment conditions among footballers. Particularly, the new measure allows players to declare their salaries and enjoy their fully justified wage and allowances, such as gym and transport allowances and salaries."

Echoing previous calls to tackle the 'ridiculous' wage discrepancies between Maltese and foreign players, Sultana insisted that this discrepancy remains the Achilles' heel between players and their respective organisations and the MFA and clubs.

"Despite creating disharmony among teammates, Maltese players often feel the subject of discrimination and injustice with their paltry €350 monthly wage when compared with the €1,200 their foreign counterparts receive for their full-time endeavours."

Coupled with their wage discrepancy, Maltese players have to shoulder various parameters and pecuniary expenses upon the termination of their contracts. On the other hand, foreign players walk away as free agents, Sultana explained.  "We expect to reach a decision in the coming months as to date, the clubs' only decision on addressing this wage discrepancy, was to increase the number of foreigners," Sultana said.

As employers football clubs are supposed to forward tax and NI contributions to government which declarations should be compared to the clubs' end of year finance reports as submitted at the GM to their supporters. I believ that way government should keep tabs on real figures presented. I have attended enough GMs at the end of the season with theclub's president groaning and moaning of the large expenses involved with the players' share taking up most of the club finances, I believe they are telling the truth. Of course there is always the individual agreements outside the clubs with sponsors who's only aim is that their sponsored player might catch the eye of some foreign club and can make his investment work with a hefty profit.This is one gravy train that has no punctures, get my gist.