Today is May Day. Amongst other things, May Day is a celebration of workers’ rights, a day where we get together to be grateful that collectively we have fought and won a bunch of legislated rights to protect our working arrangements. Chief amongst those rights is that we should have the right to bargain for our pay; and that how much we are paid should be clear before we turn up for work and not subject to sudden change.
Rugby league in particular is a game that has a long affinity with workers’ rights. It began as a game because it’s players asked to be paid. The response back 1895 was basically that players should bear the risk of playing the game without financial compensation. The response was to start a new sport where players were paid as recognition of the risk to heir health and there long-term earning potential. It’s what makes it one of the great expressions of the power of the working class.
Today we see that playing out again. The players are being asked to take on the financial (and health) risk of playing by agreeing to start the season without knowing what they would get paid. They are being asked to wear the brunt of the problems brought on by a range factors, including Peter V’Landys screwing the relationship with the broadcasters to force Todd Greenberg out, the clubs inability to manage costs (they get 130% of the salary cap in a grant from the NRL each year), and of course, the utter devastation Covid-19 has given us.
The Players’ Association response was hardly controversial. They committed to working with the competition to finalise the details of the season, but asked for clarification of the pay arrangements, as well as the health and safety arrangements. This is standard operating procedure for any union, particularly one sending its members into an uncertain environment.
Paul Kent, Jimmy Hooper and Buzz Rothfield all think the players should happily accept taking on the competition’s financial challenges without question. After the players yesterday asked for more clarity on the pay arrangements before they start risking their health for our amusement, this brain-damaged Voltron formed to call them the enemies of the game. They said the players should be grateful to have employment in times like these. They believed the players should sign off on the season without knowing what they would get paid. Paul Kent went so far to call them the enemy within (paraphrasing). If this was 1895 they’d be standing next to the southern powers of rugby union against the north.
The players no doubt feel very grateful to have employment at this time. I know I am. No human can look out their window and not feel absolutely gut-wrenching sadness for the people most affected by this crisis. I also can’t imagine what it would be like to get paid what they normally do (900K a year means 20k a fortnight after tax. Is that not an incredible idea? I actually can’t fathom what I’d do with that amount of coin), but I also recognise that there are plenty of players who are on much less substantial pay, and in much less secure employment, across the game. These players also have careers that are much shorter than you or me. This limited window to earn money makes any changes to their wages, however short term, and from whatever watermark, proportionally more important to them.
The players should not simply sign-off on playing without knowing what they are entitled. Given rumours have ranged from pay cuts from 20 to 80 per cent of the wages, you can understand why players were interested in what they’d get paid before playing again. Comparing their lot to the devastation outside of their game is a very normal tactic of those with more power in capital arrangements. They always say there isn’t enough money for the workers and ask us to take them on faith. They will always point to those who have it worse off as an excuse to not pay you what you’re worth. This applies to football as much as it applies to shelf-stacking.
The only weapon that the working person has against this is sticking together, asking for more information, and withholding their labour until pay details are sufficient. It’s called collective action and it’s how we gained every bit of workplace security, safety and pay our society befits us. The Warriors’ players started this, because they are being asked to leave their families behind for an extensive period of time and move to another country. Cameron Smith said he stood in solidarity with the Warriors team, which was the right thing to do. The Rugby League Players Association asked for more clarification before signing off on a return – a position that has been theirs for weeks now. This is what you’d expect from a players’ union. In fact, if they didn’t it have this position it should be a major scandal, not the other way around.
Of course though, this is lost on people like the Peanut King and his brethren. They take the easy road, siding with the man to blame the workers because they care more about selling outrage than about their fellow man. It’s enough to make you sick.
Unaddressed this is a potential death spiral for the NRL. We highlighted this as a potential issue for V’Landys on Monday this week, so if we saw it coming so should have he. In utilising the relationship with the broadcasters as an excuse to railroad Todd Greenberg he emboldened them to seek reductions. Since the players’ anodyne request for more details before signing off, they’ve sought further reductions. V’Landys won’t know what he can give the players until the relationship with the broadcasters is clear. He is asking the players to sign off on good faith, and right now people like Kent are proving that faith doesn’t exist.
Sidebar: The disgraceful approach of Channel 9 in particular must be remembered, and should be a chief reason that V’Landys’ decision to extend the deal with them is such a terrible idea. Not to mention doing it for less. What a brilliant strategist (*insert eye roll*).
This will get resolved by the end of this weekend. Everyone – read everyone, including Channel 9 – wants rugby league to go ahead on May 28. What is occurring is posturing. Channel 9 and Fox want to pay the NRL less. The NRL wants to pay the players less. The players are going to get paid less, and they are remarkably understanding about that. All they are asking is how much less they are going to get paid.
In the meantime everyone should relax. The players are merely doing their due diligence, and it’s should have been entirely predictable for the NRL. I can almost guarantee V’Landys and Abdo had a conversation with Clint Newton last night, and we’ll know more this afternoon.
In the meantime, people like Kent, Hooper and Rothfield should be reminded where rugby league comes from. It’s a game that celebrates the worker, not blames them.
Happy May Day.
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