FFA CEO Johnson holds back on intervening as pay dispute heats up

Full story first published for SBS’ The World Game: https://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/ffa-ceo-johnson-holds-back-on-intervening-as-pay-dispute-heats-up

FFA CEO James Johnson has sought to calm the discourse surrounding ongoing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations, telling SBS that while the FFA would intervene should the talks begin to bring the sport “into disrepute”, he didn’t believe that they were presently at that point.

The FFA has adopted the unfamiliar role of regulator during the latest round of CBA negotiations; A-League club representative body Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) taking over the responsibility of negotiating with Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) as part of moves towards an unbundling of Australia’s professional leagues from the national federation.

Clubs have thus far sought to bring about decreases of up to 30% in individual player salaries as part of the talks, as well as a lowering of both the salary cap and floor – which would aid in reducing the salaries of players whose remuneration is tied to the cap. These steps, they say, are required to ensure the continued sustainability of both themselves and the league as a whole amidst a landscape of economic contraction not just across football, but Australian sport and its wider economy.

Conversely, the PFA is adamant that players have already made significant sacrifices in the past months to ensure that the A-League could complete its 2019/20 season and that while it is inevitable that some belt-tightening occurs, the current cost-saving measures proposed by the clubs are both too onerous and create an environment ripe for unfair negotiations and inequitable outcomes amongst players.

A proposal of rolling cuts of 5% to the salary cap over a three-year period or a season conducted without a salary cap/floor by the PFA did little to break the impasse between the two parties, and the union’s membership voted to reject a club offer earlier in the weekThe World Game has reported that several A-League clubs moved to slash player wages in response to the negative vote.

Johnson has previously said that the FFA will move to intervene in the talks should the descend to a sufficient level of rancour but told SBS The World Game that he believed they had yet to reach that point.

“What we don’t want is that we don’t want an industrial dispute,” Johnson said.

“These are tense negotiations and we understand that. The parties are still talking, which is a good thing, but it’s at that point where if they stop talking that’s when it really elevates.

“That’s when it really becomes a problem and a point where we need to come in. As to when that is, it’s hard because these are living negotiations, they change shape very quickly.

“But we’ll be ready to enter if these elevate to a point where it brings the reputation of the sport and the game into disrepute.”

News Corp has reported that the PFA is set to provide clubs that have moved to cut player wages with two weeks to pay their players the rest of the money owed before they undertake legal action.

“As per the players’ individual and legally-binding club contracts, the clubs are required to pay the players’ full entitlements and any reduction would be a breach of their contract,” a PFA spokesperson said on Wednesday. 

With reduced revenue from sponsors and broadcast partner Fox Sports on the horizon, the current CBA talks were always set to be a charged affair, and Johnson said he had sympathies for both clubs and players as they undertake what the FFA calls “an important step in the unbundling process that is occurring in Australia’s professional football leagues”.

“I’m sympathetic with the clubs and the players,” said the FFA CEO. “It’s been a really difficult period for the professional game.

“You’ve had a contraction of the market, there are fewer broadcast revenues available, less sponsorship money available and people are not going to stadiums – which means there’s less match revenue.

“So, when the market contracts it does result in sensitive negotiations between employers and employees and that’s where we are at the moment.

“For the first time you’ve got the clubs negotiating CBA’s, so that’s a challenge, but this is part of unbundling.

“The other point we need to look at is that the negotiations only started straight after the A-League finished, which was only a couple of weeks ago. So they’re still very fresh – there’s a way to go still.

“So, what we’re trying to do is provide support, provide space for the employers and employees to try and reach an agreement.

“At some point, if it elevates, we would obviously have to consider entering these negotiations. But the point for right now is to try to give them support and space to try to resolve this directly.”

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