‘We have no choice’: Players launch industrial threat in pay dispute twist

Frustrated NRL stars are preparing for industrial action within weeks after their union slapped a deadline on head office to finalise a number of issues in the protracted pay dispute between the governing body and its players.

In the latest twist in the long-running and bitter collective bargaining agreement talks, the game’s players are on the verge of escalating action against the NRL in the midst of the regular season.

In an email sent to the entire NRL and NRLW playing group on Monday night and seen by the Herald, the Rugby League Players’ Association says players will have “no choice” but to trigger action “should negotiations continue to stall”.

It is the most significant update in weeks to the delicate negotiations, which have largely been reported as having progressed over the last month.

But despite hopes of a resolution before the start of the season – four months after the last pay deal expired – the NRL and the RLPA have been unable to strike agreement on a number of issues.

In the email to all its members, the RLPA said it wanted agreement on NRLW contracts, a transfer system, an above-forecast revenue model, player payments and player-benefit allocations before the end of the week, otherwise it suggested players would need to act.

The email said there had been advances in the past month but added “we can no longer waste another day”.

The NRL and the players’ association have been unable to strike agreement on a number of issues.Credit:Getty

“As you know, the last thing the RLPA wants is for our dispute with the NRL to impact fans through player action,” the email said. “Given the NRL’s failure to meet some of our most important demands, and clubs seemingly also resisting, the situation may require forthright action by players.

“We do not consider taking player action lightly, but feel we will have no choice should negotiations
continue to stall.”

It’s not the first time senior stars have discussed the prospect of interrupting games, proposing to delay kick-off times, cover NRL logos and refuse all media requests in pre-season challenge matches if the NRL couldn’t reach a deal on certain conditions last month. The players eventually decided against interrupting the trial matches.

But the latest shot across the bow is a major escalation in tensions between the parties, with players told “progress has slowed dramatically” in talks since the start of the competition proper.

The Herald revealed last week the NRL and RLPA were still discussing the minimum wage payments for top-30 contracted players despite the Australian Rugby League Commission announcing an in-principle agreement before Christmas for the 2023 salary cap.

The players’ union wants the NRL to lift the minimum payment above $120,000 given the game’s stars will now pay for their own health insurance.

Clubs have also lobbied the NRL and RLPA to finalise a transfer model before signing off on a new five-year agreement.

The RLPA has pushed back on an NRL proposal to restrict players signing a contract with a rival club until June 30 in the final year of their existing deal – eight months later than the November 1 frenzy.

The likes of Stephen Crichton, Spencer Leniu, Herbie Farnworth, Tom Flegler and Dom Young are all playing for their current clubs in 2023 despite signing deals elsewhere.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo launched last week’s multicultural round at Belmore without any players, who continue to skip NRL-aligned promotions while still partaking in other community visits.

The NRL was contacted for comment on Monday evening.

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