STRIKES ARE coming thick and fast at the moment. Following the SAG-AFTRA strikes in the US and increased industrial action domestically, Rugby League is the latest profession where employees are standing up to their bosses. NRL players haven’t quite joined their striking comrades on the picket lines just yet, but as the Rugby League Players Association’s (RLPA) dispute with the NRL over a new collective bargaining agreement continues to get uglier, the players’ union is resorting to increasingly dramatic measures.
This week, NRL and NRLW players have decided to take things up a notch by covering the NRL logo that adorns their jerseys during games. The result makes for quite a jarring experience, as familiar jerseys are suddenly blotched with tape – mind you, rugby league jerseys rarely stay unencumbered by dirt, mud and grass stains past a game’s opening few minutes anyway.
The players’ latest protest action was on full display on Thursday night during a double header that featured the NRLW’s Broncos and Titans, and the NRL’s Broncos and Roosters, during which players from all four teams covered their league logo on their jerseys (although it seems they forgot to cover the logo on their shorts). The patchwork logo blockage was hard for viewers to miss, unless of course, they tuned out altogether to watch the Matildas.
Covering a logo probably isn’t going to bring the sport grinding to a halt the way the actors’ and writers’ strikes have in Hollywood, although it does send a message that when it comes to negotiations over the new CBA, players (aptly), aren’t playing around.
Why are NRL players boycotting?
The current protests, boycotts and disputes between the RLPA and NRL stem from a failure to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The last CBA expired a year ago but was extended to allow time for further negotiations. Both sides have until October to agree on a new deal regarding pay and working conditions, but talks have stalled.
Negotiations have all but stopped in recent weeks, with the RLPA not satisfied with multiple points in the NRL’s offer. The NRL wants to maintain the ability to extend the season for two matches without player input, as well as increase collection of players’ medical data, and have a greater say in the allocation of funding, which the RLPA says is unacceptable. Apparently pro athletes also have to deal with controlling bosses – just like the rest of us!
To bring the NRL back to the negotiating table, players previously shunned media appearances. This has meant that for post-game interviews and press conferences, where we traditionally see players giving their first-hand take on the game they just played in, we now see coaches and broadcasters filling in the gaps.
The media boycott didn’t have the desired league-stopping effect, with the NRL content to wait out the drama. Now, logo covering is the latest attempt to get the governing body’s attention. North Queensland Cowboys halfback Chad Townsend summed up the RLPA’s reasoning: “We are escalating our action as a playing group because the NRL have shown a complete lack of respect by not agreeing to what is a very reasonable path forward in negotiations.”
Are NRLW players also involved in the dispute?
While male players battle for a new CBA, their female counterparts don’t officially have one at all. NRLW players agreed in principle to a new CBA in February, but are still ironing out a few details, meaning that the women’s game has also become embroiled in the protests.
Newcastle Knights NRLW star Nita Maynard explained the decision to join the logo protest on Instagram: “It’s Women in League Round, but NRLW players still don’t have a CBA,” Maynard said. “What does that say about the respect the NRL has for women playing rugby league?”
Will there be more boycotts from NRL players?
With players becoming increasingly emboldened in their acts of defiance, and the NRL’s refusal to budge on several key issues, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see more boycotts – which we can expect to be even bigger.
A full-blown boycott of the NRL’s biggest awards night, the Dally-M ceremony, has been suggested as a potential outcome if negotiations continue to stall. In an interview with SEN Radio, RLPA operations manager Tom Symonds hinted at a Dally-M boycott. “To be transparent, it probably is on the table,” Symonds said. “That’s an option on the table, along with a number of other things that players are considering.”
Will the NRL pay disputes be resolved soon?
An independent mediator is set to assist with negotiations from now on, with the hope that a neutral third party will be able to quickly iron out many points of contention. Even with that development, the deadline for a new CBA is less than three months away and if the issue isn’t resolved, players will technically be uncontracted and uninsured. The clock is well and truly ticking.