BEAU BUSCH looks into the recent player unrest in both Spain and Italy, which has exposed many issues that are denying players a secure working environment. While there may be many differences to the situation in Australia these issues are still relevant if football is to continue to grow and attract top talent to the A-League…

The recent strike by the players in Spain’s top two divisions has caused much discussion on the rights of players and the security of contracts.

Having become increasingly concerned over the rights of their fellow professionals and unable to reach an agreement with the governing body there was no football played in either of Spain’s top two competitions on the opening weekend of the new season.

With over 200 players having not received a wage for several months and clubs owing more than $67 million in unpaid wages the players’ union with the backing of the players decided to take action.

The union was calling for an emergency fund to be set-up to cover the wages of players whose clubs were unable to meet their contractual obligations and for players to be able to cancel their contracts and move to another club if they had not received a wage for three months.

Before the planned second week of the strike was due to go ahead the Spanish governing body accepted the players’ demands.

Whilst these issues are different for players plying their trade in the A-League, contract security has unfortunately in the past taken a dent when both the New Zealand Knights folded and when the North Queensland Fury changed ownership after its inaugural season.

When the Fury licence was transferred in 2010 back to the Football Federation of Australia 16 players were told that their entitlements would not be guaranteed by the governing body.

Despite having one and two-year contracts still remaining with the club they were faced with the prospect of either having to re-negotiate or being released.

This is something that the PFA CEO Brendan Schwab says is unacceptable.

“The situation at North Queensland Fury where the FFA were able to pick and choose which liabilities it picked up was not the only case of this happening.

“We have had other players lose their entitlements in the transfer of ownership, with the Rostyn Griffiths case at Adelaide United and at the Newcastle Jets where we continue to pursue payments.”

With these cases in mind contract security was high on the agenda when the PFA met with the FFA at the end of last season for the mandated third-year review of the five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Mr Schwab said the PFA had sought to establish some sort of contract guarantee fund to offer greater security for players but were unable to reach an agreement with the FFA on this.

“The FFA were of the opinion that football is an inherently risky business and the risk of that must be borne not only by the owners but also by the clubs’ players and other creditors.”

Despite being unable to reach an agreement with the FFA for a contract guarantee fund, the PFA were successful in gaining an acknowledgment from the FFA on the fundamental importance of contract security.

This acknowledgement from the FFA has since been added to the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The new clause in the CBA is an acknowledgment of an agreement between the FFA and the PFA of the reciprocal obligation on clubs to honour the terms of all Standard Player Contracts entered into with players, including punctually complying with all financial obligations to them.

It also states that the PFA reserves the right to make claims to protect and secure player contracts.

With this acknowledgement by the FFA Mr Schwab said that players’ contract security had been increased.

“FFA have recognised that this is fundamental and it would be very interesting if the FFA was then to turn around and exercise any transfer of licence situation in a way that doesn’t respect players.

“This clause goes to the heart of the bargain between the PFA and the FFA and from that point of view it is very significant because the consequences for FFA not complying with, or any clubs not complying with it, they would be in fundamental breach of the CBA.”

Whilst conceding that this does not offer the same sort of protection as the wage guarantee fund secured by players in Spain, Mr Schwab said that there were many challenges associated with setting up a contract guarantee fund.

“Contract guarantee funds are very fraught and can encourage clubs to push the boundaries knowing that ultimately the liability will fall on the contract guarantee fund and not themselves.

“The best way to deal with this (contract security) is as we have done, which is to devise a scheme that maximises the financial viability of the league and the clubs to avoid player contracts from not being complied with in the first place. In the A-League, we now hope that the financial responsibilities of the salary cap, coupled with a reciprocal acknowledgement that the player contracts must be complied with, will be enough. We will, of course, continue to monitor this situation very closely.”

With the players such as Harry Kewell and Brett Emerton returning to Australia it is important that more are encouraged to follow their lead and contract security could be decisive factor in doing so.

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