If bargaining was going well the NRL wouldn’t have needed to clarify its position on parental leave and support.
They did this last week when reports emerged that they had rejected the players’ association’s pitch for a robust parental leave and support program for the NRLW players. As anyone with a smidge of strategic thinking could tell you, the league will need such a policy at some point. If they intend to have a flourishing women’s league, they’ll need proper support for women to remain attached the workplace. Parental leave exists to ensure people continue to participate in the labour market after they have children. For a sport that desperately needs participation, this should have been a no brainer.
Thankfully, when reports emerged they had out-and-out rejected the union’s proposal, they took the glorious step of clarifying that they hadn’t rejected the need for one, just that the one proposed by the players was too generous. To which the union promptly responded “ok good, let’s include it in the collective agreement” because that’s how bargaining works and the only way outside legislation it can legally be guaranteed. And again the league was silent. It doesn’t matter whether the RLPA’s offer was reasonable or not. It seems the league simply refused to discuss.
If bargaining was going well the NRL wouldn’t need the compliant sycophants of the old media to fluff their loins at every opportunity. They wouldn’t in fact be in the media at all. They certainly wouldn’t be trying to explain themselves through the media like Anthony Abdo did, in which he tried to argue their case, blame the players union and pretend that they haven’t sat on their hands for the best part of 14 months. If bargaining was going well the NRL would be instead put out the occasional statement highlighting progress and praising the players union as a worthy partner in the game. When you hold the purse strings that’s what you do, because it’s hard to mess up bargaining as long your workers don’t strike.
If bargaining was going well the NRL certainly wouldn’t alienate a good proportion of those they would argue they are looking after, providing evidence of the union’s central claim that the players are the only ones that care about the women’s game, about vulnerable players, and about the long term health of the game. They wouldn’t have to make the audacious claim that they care about the long-term’s health of the women’s game while refusing to take the necessary steps to ensure maximum participation of their female talent.
If the bargain was going well, we wouldn’t be talking about missing games. Which is what we had this week when both Josh Papalii and Joe Tapine, leaders and good people, had to go to the media to say the league wasn’t treating them seriously. As Papalii told Fox Sports:
You can’t sit in a company that’s not willing to look after you. You want to do your best and put your best foot forward and we just want to be treated fairly at the end of the day. We sacrifice our bodies to entertain the public and not everyone is going to agree with what we’re trying to do here, but it’s for the players safety and it does make it a better place at the end of the day. But if the NRL don’t see it that way then like other players have said, nothing is off the table and all players are on the same page
This goes to the very core of the players claims, and to whatever scraps of credibility that remained for the V’Landys administration. That legitimacy has always been based on the idea that we, the rugby league community, should be grateful because V’Landys kept the
trains game running on time. This last finger grasping to the cliff of integrity is now at risk because the league isn’t willing to take the players on as a partner in the game. Because the game doesn’t want to provide protection for its vulnerable players. Because the league doesn’t want to extend protections that are normal in any other workplace to the men and women that play the people’s game.
The NRL has gone from being a leader with the LGBTQI community to alienating them. It’s gone from celebrating the birth of the NRLW competition to denying the RLPA’s proposal for a fair collective agreement for the women’s game. It’s gone from what seemed a normal, productive relationship with the players and their representatives to a combative one. Two years ago the players bent over backwards, sacrificing money, family and whatever ideas of normalcy they had to keep the game going during Covid, even while V’Landys pulled the rug out from underneath them by changing the rules haphazardly. Now the players don’t trust the competition to look after them. How far we’ve come.
At the moment it’s just trials at risk. Thankfully the players see the All-Star game as a cultural celebration rather than work. They probably also recognise that if they stepped aside V’Landys might turn it into a ‘All Live Matter’ game out of fear your uncle doesn’t feel respected by the Haka. But if this isn’t sorted soon, then one week might become two. The league and the players are locked in a room as we speak. One can only hope robust discussions result in peace. But if the league continues to take what from the outside appears as a strategy of waiting for the players to accede to their demands, things may get worse.
And if that is the strategy, then that tells you all you need to know. Instead of providing support for past players the league would prefer to claim only they care for the long term interest of the game. Instead of bargaining a position on parental leave the administration would rather speak to the media. Instead of embedding an collective agreement to protect the NRLW players V’Landys would prefer to isolate the LGBTQI community. And instead of partnering with the players that make the game great, the league would rather impart blame for a mess they created.
The NRL no doubt don’t see it that way. No wonder bargaining isn’t going well.
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