Cricket in this country has reached an unbelievable position: as of last Friday, Australia’s best professional players are unemployed, and every future tour is under threat as the dispute is still raging on.
What’s the real issue?
The heart of the issue is not dollar value to be paid to the players – it’s the model of payment.
The last 20 years have seen Australia’s best cricketers paid under a revenue-sharing model, which split up payment between male domestic and international players and the governing body.
On December 12 last year though, with the Memorandum of Understanding expiring on June 31, Cricket Australia sent their first pay draft to the Australian Cricketers’ Association with a fixed wage model, including a capped bonus system only available to international players rather than everyone.
This, if it were ever to come into effect, gives wage control directly to the board, rather than it being determined by the revenue generated by cricket in Australia.
From there, neither side has budged. CA have tried to deal directly with the players, the ACA and players have knocked back everything sent their way, and we now find ourselves in a stand-off.
In March, CA presented their formal pay deal, which added elements to the December deal, but was largely unchanged. It was around this time the media coverage in the issue ramped up.
It’s since been made clear the ACA isn’t going to accept anything not including a revenue sharing model.
In the March deal, CA said they want to return more money to grassroots and attempted to sign players on multi-year contracts, all not signed.
The grassroots, CA feels, are underfunded in Australia, so their plan was to use the extra money to invest in the juniors around the country, as well as expand their own media wing for better coverage of the game.
The MoU from CA was going to, for the first time, include women and raise their salaries by more than 100 per cent, while the total allotment for player wages actually increased from $311 million to $419 million.
With the large windfall expected from the Big Bash, the ACA and players were wary that the increase might not be enough if the current revenue sharing model was to be carried over.
The move would have taken international women’s average pay from $79,000 to $179,000, while state-based women’s players could jump from $22,000 to $52,000.
The revenue sharing model keeps percentages of income though, and based on the majority of money being made by the men’s team, they felt it was far from a good deal to protect everyone in Australian cricket.
Mediation was then requested by the ACA but rejected by CA. On June 23, a new deal was sent by CA, allowing the fixed bonus to apply to all players – not just international ones – and sent contract offers to all players.
It was immediately knocked back, with the players still not believing the deal was fair.
The players are now unemployed – what next?
There are three tours on the horizon, plus the upcoming ‘A’ tour of South Africa.
Boycotts are the most likely course of action by the players. CA can’t afford that, but it’s been threatened and if the MoU isn’t worked out by Friday, the ‘A’ tour will be cancelled.
Following that, the tour of Bangladesh, the ODI tour of India, and the Ashes could all be shelved.
There has been talk the ACA will save the summer’s biggest tours by releasing the rights of players for short-term contracts, but it still doesn’t look positive.
It’ll be a band-aid solution at best, and when the Ashes are over, it’s likely to be ripped off, with the pay dispute continuing.
Essentially, the ACA will place the players up for hire to CA for a certain length of time for a certain amount of money on their terms.
Players aren’t going to be continually given short-term contracts. It’s simply not a workable option and a new MoU, with a longer term deal – years in length – for the players must be worked out.
As for domestic players, the base wage for a state player is reported to rise to $80,000 per year under the new MoU, but with the deadline now past, those state players – who undoubtedly don’t have bank accounts as healthy as the likes of David Warner and Steve Smith – may have a thinning resolve.
This could lead to them beginning to sign fixed-wage, multi-year contracts with CA, no matter how much they want the revenue sharing model.
Of course, that’s exactly what CA want. Given they have already gone past the deadline, the chance of them breaking their stance on a fixed wage contract now is slim. The lower-level players are far more likely to relent.
Furthermore, players are looking at options overseas in T20 leagues and exhibition matches. It’s been strongly suggested by CA that bans of at least six months would be applied to players who participated during the Australian summer.
Unpaid tour contracts
I almost spat my breakfast across the table when I read Glenn Maxwell and Usman Khawaja, among others who were going to be unemployed, were being offered unpaid contracts to go to South Africa for the ‘A’ tour.
In a desperate bid to keep the tour alive, CA – which was going to be almost a selection camp for the final spot on the Bangladesh tour, and likely to be a guide for the Indian tour, Ashes series and South African tour next year – offered the five national players a contract that would cover their accommodation, travel and insurance.
This would ensure there was no ‘out of pocket’ expense to the players, but it was quickly shut down by the ACA, leaving the A tour with it’s Friday deadline as unlikely.
No match payments was a direct slap in the face from Cricket Australia.
Women’s team paid forward to the end of the World Cup – but then they join the rest
The Australian women’s team have been slightly forgotten about in all this. They are currently playing in the World Cup and have been forward paid before the deadline by CA.
But, like the men, they will be out of a job at the end of the tournament, which they are favourites to win.
They have announced they will stand solid with the men – everyone is in this together, and they will not sign fixed wage contracts unless the ACA decides it’s the best thing for everything.
— Meg Lanning (@meglanning7) April 28, 2017
Why doesn’t James Sutherland step in?
An anonymous figure in this debate has been CA CEO James Sutherland, who has declined to get involved, despite the players calling for him to sit down with ACA CEO Alistair Nicholson.
Sutherland has been in England for the women’s World Cup and returned just days before the deadline, but refused to get involved, instead letting his board drag it out to the penultimate time.
CA’s head of strategy, Kevin Roberts, has instead done a majority of the negotiating, along with former Rio Tinto managing director David Peever.
It goes without saying that Peever and Roberts have become key players in this. Peever has been chairman of Cricket Australia since October 2015, after a long stint with Rio Tinto, while Roberts was formerly an executive at Adidas.
Peever was strongly against unions during his time at the mining giant, and it’s filtering through here in his dealings with the Cricketers Association. Unfortunately for him and his team, saying no to mining unions is a little easier than replacing Mitchell Starc or Steve Smith.
At the end of the day, everyone thinks they are in the right, no one wants to admit they are in the wrong, and until someone comes to the table with that admission, this bitter and ridiculous dispute over a payment model will continue.
And if the Ashes get cancelled – all hell will break lose.