Rugby Australia has sealed a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) for the sport that is set to introduce gender equality in pay and a new contracting model for the Super Rugby franchises, amongst other changes.
The new CBA has been agreed between Rugby Australia, the Rugby Union Players Association (RUPA) and Australia’s four remaining Super Rugby teams following months of what the governing body conceded were “robust” negotiations during what has been a challenging period for the sport in the country.
The new CBA is effective immediately and runs through to the end of 2020, in line with the current broadcast agreement. For the first time, the new CBA sees the Wallabies men’s 15s team, Wallaroos women’s 15s team, all Super Rugby players and both Australian rugby sevens squads captured within its scope. New minimum terms and conditions have been agreed for each playing group, with the CBA retaining the revenue share model which sees players continuing to receive 29 per cent of revenue generated by the professional game.
Pay equality between Super Rugby and rugby sevens players – male and female – has also been achieved, with the entry level full-time minimum salaries replicated across the professional game. In another first for the game, Wallaroos players will receive Test match payments from 2018.
A new contracting model for Super Rugby has also been established which increases the number of full-time Super Rugby contract opportunities at each team, with all four Super Rugby clubs to contract a minimum of 36 full-time players, up to a maximum of 40. The overall Super Rugby salary cap has been adjusted to accommodate all full-time players at Super Rugby clubs to a total of A$5.5m (€3.6m/$4.3m), with a 15 per cent discount built in to reward long-serving players.
A rugby pathway within Western Australia has also been retained, with the future of the National Rugby Championship (NRC) and the continued participation of a Western Australian team guaranteed for the length of the CBA. This follows the bitterly contested decision which saw Perth-based Western Force axed from Super Rugby last year.
Outgoing Rugby Australia chief executive Bill Pulver said in a statement: “I want to thank RUPA CEO Ross Xenos and his team for what has been a tough but fair negotiation, which has provided an outcome that ultimately sets our game on a strong footing heading into the final three years of our current broadcast agreement.
“While we continue to invest heavily in the professional game, Rugby Australia and RUPA have worked together to ensure that the game can address the issue of funding at the community level.
“We have struck a balance that will allow greater investment in the community game, while ensuring that our High Performance programs are supported to deliver the on-field success that rugby fans demand and deserve.
“The new CBA is the first of its kind to incorporate all professional programs, including our sevens teams and the Wallaroos, and importantly addresses key issues of pay equality and player welfare.”
The new CBA has been struck as Pulver prepares to step down from his post. Raelene Castle was last month unveiled as the first woman to take the chief executive’s role at a major rugby union body by succeeding Pulver.
Castle will take up the role on January 15 following the resignation of Pulver, who announced he would stand down in August in the wake of the fallout from the Western Force decision. Commenting on the implications of the new CBA for Super Rugby in Australia, Pulver said it will help to improve player performance and crowd numbers.
He told Australian broadcaster ABC: “I'm confident it will. Clearly, we've been through a rather painful process of reducing from five Super Rugby teams to four. The player lists we have in the four remaining player lists are very strong and we're very confident of much better results this year. If the teams perform well on the paddock the crowds will come and watch.”
RUPA president Dean Mumm said the conclusion of the new CBA, after the previous deal expired at the end of 2017, was critical in order to allow for players to focus on the game in 2018. “This agreement allows all parties to draw a line in the sand and move forward towards a more prosperous future for Australian rugby,” he added.
“Whilst both parties have made concessions in order to secure the Agreement, the negotiations that have transpired amidst a highly-challenging landscape have been respectful, transparent and fair.”