Cricket’s pay dispute has gone up a notch

Glenn Mitchell Columnist

By , Glenn Mitchell is a Roar Expert

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    Generations of cricketers have grown up in this country with the dream of playing in an Ashes series.

    The current crop is no different, despite the increased presence of myriad Twenty20 leagues.

    Yet, players yesterday took a step that may harm their prospects of being selected for this summer’s series against the old enemy by boycotting the Australia A tour of South Africa.

    CA initially set down today as the deadline for the players to confirm their standing for the tour but brought it forward 24 hours for what it said were logistical reasons.

    As one, the players elected to turn their back on the tour.

    The decision, made in unison by the playing group which was to be led by Usman Khawaja, has moved the current acrimonious pay dispute into even rougher waters.

    On Sunday, following an Australian Cricketers Association meeting in Sydney, the players resolved to abandon the tour if there was not material progress made this week on the MoU talks after having drafted 14 non-negotiable resolutions.

    Yesterday they deemed that there had not been sufficient progress towards ending the stand-off. Cricket Australia expressed a different view, believing there had been enough progress following discussions this week to see the tour proceed.

    Not for the first time, the battling parties are diametrically opposed in their view of proceedings.

    While the dispute appears a long way from being resolved, the abandonment of the Australia A tour will be of great concern to CA.

    Among the touring party, which was scheduled to play two four-day matches against South Africa A were Khawaja, Glenn Maxwell and Jackson Bird.

    The national selectors chose that trio, and others, as an audition for the Ashes series. It would be a way for them to enhance their prospects of selection come the summer.

    The fact they have opted out of the tour is the most potent signal to date that the players remain united.

    As is the case in all disputes of this nature there is a level of brinkmanship with both parties making threats.

    While CA would have foreseen the boycott of the South Africa tour as a real likelihood, the fact that it has occurred will cause some gnashing of teeth.

    Both parties remain at loggerheads over the revenue sharing agreement that has underpinned successive MoUs since 1997 but there is an equally large issue at play – CA’s desire to dilute the power of the ACA.

    It is a classic case of a business entity endeavouring to dull the strength of its constituent union.

    The genesis for the current dispute stems back to the 2012 Crawford Report into CA’s governance.

    The report recommended the most significant shake-up in the cricket board’s 112-year history with a reduction from 14 to six state-based directors and the introduction of three independent directors.

    The move away from the board being merely a collection of state bodies was the catalyst for the appointment of current chair, David Peever.

    As former managing director of Rio Tinto Australia, Peever has a history of taking on the unions.

    While at Rio he was an ardent fan of the Howard government’s Work Choices legislation and used it as a catalyst for many of the anti-union measures undertaken at the multinational miner.

    Peever is opposed to collective bargaining through third parties and believes workplace agreements should be negotiated with employees rather than unions.

    Steve Smith Usman Khawaja

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    While the players see themselves as equal partners in the game, Peever views them as contract employees, believing the pair should negotiate directly without input from ACA.

    To date, the players have held firm in the belief that they are best served by ACA taking up the baton on their behalf at the negotiating table.

    Previous chairmen, Jack Clarke and Wally Edwards – both cricket administrators of long standing – and current CEO James Sutherland have previously questioned the revenue-sharing model.

    Peever is staunchly against it continuing, as are many on the current board.

    Clarke, Edwards and Sutherland all previously agreed to ACA being a representative of the players in the drafting of earlier MoUs. Peever does not and he is ardent in his desire to remove its power at the table.

    Those at the top of CA would have been hoping by now for fractures within player ranks.

    Yesterday’s decision to opt out of the South Africa tour is a clear indication that there is nothing but unity across the playing group.

    Yesterday’s announcement by ACA indicates the parties are still poles apart.

    Curiously, Sutherland is still having limited exposure in the negotiations.

    Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and chairman Wally Edwards

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    While he has been in talks this week with his ACA counterpart, Alistair Nicholson, CA’s chief negotiator remains Kevin Roberts.

    Should Roberts attain the goals set down by CA’s board for the next MoU, he may be the body’s next CEO when Sutherland, who has been in the role since 2001, departs.

    Despite ACA’s desire for mediation, CA refuses. Without it, it is hard to see how a resolution acceptable to both parties can be found.

    The players want to assure that all players – male and female – are remunerated fairly. They believe it can only happen with a revenue sharing model similar to the one in place for the past 20 years.

    They are also concerned that funds that could be directed to the grassroots level of the sport is being drained by a top-heavy bureaucracy.

    ACA has voiced its concerns that the number of CA employees has almost doubled in the past five years.

    With a line ruled through the South Africa series, the next hurdle for CA is next month’s two-Test tour of Bangladesh followed by a lucrative limited overs tour of India. And then, of course, the Ashes.

    Such is the standing of that series, federal sports minister Greg Hunt has stated that the government would be prepared to intervene in the dispute should things still not be resolved.

    At this rate, he may be needed come November.

    Glenn Mitchell
    Glenn Mitchell

    After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia, and tweets from @mitchellglenn.

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