For more than three decades, a salary cap has been implemented in the National Rugby League (NRL) to promote fairness and parity amongst its teams. Yet this may soon come undone after October if a fresh salary agreement cannot be reached between the league’s governing body and the playing fraternity.
Prominent footballers across the game’s spectrum are contemplating the possibility of pushing back the commencement of pre-season drills if the ongoing disagreement, threatening a key instrument for preserving equity among the 17 teams, isn’t resolved soon.
Reports have surfaced indicating that NRL clubs are cognizant of the fact that the salary cap strictly falls under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which is set to expire at the close of this financial year of the rugby league. The previous agreement, which had been extended another 12 months, cannot be re-extended. This may result in confusion regarding the process of player remuneration later this year.
Several aspects enumerated in the CBA, including the salary cap, the minimum wage, player insurance for death and total permanent disability, and compulsory player appearances, will all terminate on October 31 if a novel agreement fails to be finalised. Even the distribution of funds amongst clubs to remain within the salary cap and keep the balance between high earning players making $1 million per season and players at the lower end of the scale earning around $120,000, hangs in the balance.
In December of last year, the NRL made an announcement stating that a mutually agreed deal with the players’ union to raise the salary cap by 25% in 2023 had been reached. However, they chose to withhold any further comments on the legal implications of the salary cap if no subsequent deal is agreed upon.
Bearing the brunt of deadlocked negotiations, both male and female players responded in unity by masking the NRL logo with adhesive tape during a recent weekend game. Following this, representatives are slated to meet in the forthcoming week to deliberate on possible recourse which might include deferment of game start times and non-attendance of the Dally M Medal ceremony if noticeable advancement is not made in discussions, which has been in the pipeline for over 20 months.
The Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) remains unwavering in its request to seek out a mediator adept at industrial relations to break the deadlock. However, the chairman of the Australian Rugby League Commission, Peter V’landys, confronted this proposal by dubbing it as “extremely counterproductive and inefficient” and further blamed the RLPA for avoiding closure on a deal.
Ian Neil SC, a leading employment attorney, looks upon bringing in a mediator as a tried and tested method for resolving such disputes. He explained, “It’s been tried and found effective in this country for decades. I’ve seen [the NRL’s] justification, but that’s the kind of thing mediators and conciliators in industrial disputes encounter all the time. There’s nothing new about it.”
He further pointed out that if an alternative agreement is not reached, there will be a literal void once the deadline expires on the first of November. This, he believes, will strip away any legal responsibilities by either side.
Neil marked this as concerning from the perspective of both the game and the league, and particularly for the governing body and the players. He contended, “I would say even more substantially for the governing body because the CBA is a way they exercise control over players.”
Vlandys retorted by suggesting progress can only be made if Newton and Abdo remove themselves from negotiations and player directors assume their positions.
Director of RLPA, Kurt Capewell, believes appointing an independent mediator is the most straightforward solution to push through an agreement, which he said is fundamental. Capewell stated, “The independent mediator is a plain and simple way to move forward and get the deal done as quick as possible. It’s what we need. We’re willing to do whatever is needed to get a fair deal moving forward. Every player is together on this and we’re all on board.”