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CA proposes arbitration to resolve pay dispute

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Brettig: CA under pressure from lot of sectors (2:27)

Daniel Brettig dissects Cricket Australia's decision to call for arbitration to resolve the protracted pay dispute and how the ACA is likely to respond to the board's move (2:27)

Australia's cricketers have been offered an effective rollover of their contracts under the previous MoU and a process of independent arbitration to end a bitter pay war without placing the status of future series against Bangladesh, India and the home Ashes against England in any further doubt.

In a dramatic departure from Cricket Australia's stated policy of keeping pay negotiations private, the board's chief executive, James Sutherland, laid out the proposal on Thursday afternoon in the hope of sidestepping a looming firestorm of commercial and cricketing chaos that would further worsen all sides of the dispute.

"What we're proposing out of this is that we do go into some intensive discussions over the next few days that will hopefully see the matter come to resolution," Sutherland said. "Failing that, we believe that the best course of action is to get the matter resolved through arbitration, get the show on the road and move on.

"I think what we've put forward here is a good solution. It's a fair-minded solution. It highlights where we're up to. There's no doubt there's a bit of an impasse here, but I believe that with positive intent and the right people in the room, we can get this sorted in the next few days. Failing that, we're prepared to say that we'll put the issues to arbitration, we'll accept the umpire's decision, and the game goes on."

Critically, CA is prepared to pay male players under the terms of the most recent MoU while remunerating the women under the vastly improved financial terms of their recent proposals. It has not yet been decided whether back pay would be given to more than 230 players, who were left out of contract when the previous collective agreement expired on July 1. Similar uncertainty looms over what will happen to more than A$58 million in adjustment ledger payments due to all past and present male players, who held contracts between 2012 and 2017.

In proposing a period of intensive talks over the next few days with a view to finding a resolution by the middle of next week, Sutherland also revealed CA's preference for independent arbitration should these discussions fail. It was the Australian Cricketers' Association that first proposed mediated negotiations between Sutherland and his opposite number Alistair Nicholson on May 12, the same day CA sent out a letter, warning that players would be unemployed if no deal was reached by June 30.

CA does not want the arbitration to be conducted by the Fair Work Commission, Australia's official industrial relations umpire, but rather be done privately by an eminent individual, agreed upon by both parties, who, in Sutherland's words would be "someone like a retired supreme court judge". At the same time, the contract rollovers would remove the threat of further tour cancellations, which is both the players' strongest point of leverage but also the source of the most long-lasting damage to the game.

After both parties came close to agreement in recent discussions, CA's continued reluctance to accept the concept of revenue sharing led the ACA to take their own "peace plan" to all contracted players and the public, before CA floated their counter-proposal via a report in The Australian. Having pushed the dispute beyond the MoU expiry at the start of the month, CA has now become worried by the rapidly shrinking amount of time available to solve the impasse without major dislocation. Sutherland, on his part, suggested the ACA had been stalling it in order to enhance its bargaining power.

"I think the concern that I've tried to reflect in talking today is that we seem to be bogged down at times in process and strategies that are perhaps designed to slow things down," Sutherland said. "Certainly from our perspective we see the urgency and I think cricket fans see the urgency. I think cricket fans are probably tired of talking about it and reading about it in the newspaper. We need the show to get back on the road. There's big tours ahead - against Bangladesh and India - and then obviously a great summer of Ashes cricket.

"I'm raising the fact that I have increasing concerns about timelines. We've got a tour coming up against Bangladesh, and I think it's really important that this issue is resolved right now, or in the short term. What we believe is we've got a fair mechanism to do that. Best intents and compromise on both parts will see the matter resolved in the next few days.

"We certainly have concerns that the urgency at our end is not being reciprocated on the other side, and that's why today I'm talking to you about a way through that sees short-term intensive discussions that hopefully can bring the matter to resolution and failing that, an independent arbitrator to come in, make a decision and we accept the umpire's decision."

Both parties involved in the debate have consulted with figures steeped in Australian industrial relations law. Greg Combet, the former Labor government minister and former head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, has advised the ACA. CA's negotiation team has included the former IR commissioner, Ken Bacon, who has also consulted for the mining company Rio Tinto, where the CA chairman David Peever worked as managing director. The seriousness of the dispute has been underlined by the fact that the federal sports minister, Greg Hunt, contacted both CA and the ACA to urge a swift resolution.

Sutherland, who had remained at an arm's length from negotiations until close to the previous MoU's expiry, said that the game could not be allowed to be placed in a state of paralysis by the stand-off. The ACA's most recent submission to CA included a prospective heads of agreement and draft versions of short-term contracts for the Test squad for Bangladesh, where the customary pre-tour security visit by CA and ACA representatives is currently taking place. Sutherland said these contracts, in particular, left room for considerable doubt about the tour going ahead.

"I don't want to go into specific detail except to say that it leaves unresolved issues in such a way that the players may not tour, may choose to not tour. Clearly we don't want that situation," he said. "The Australian team is about to tour Bangladesh. It's a very important tour. It's very important for Bangladesh, it's very important for Australia. We need that tour to go ahead, and we also need to start proper preparations for the summer of cricket ahead, both for domestic players and international players as well.

"The urgency is clearly now as the season approaches. As every day goes by it becomes more urgent. I would have hoped that over the last few weeks, things would have proceeded in such a way that we could conclude things. I've been through five of these negotiations before, with [former ACA chiefs] Tim May and Paul Marsh, and at times these things can be very complex and difficult, even fiery. "But, in the end, we've always been able to find a way through. Both parties have been able to see a balance that is struck between the interest of the players and the interest of the game as a whole. We haven't been able to find that landing spot yet but hopefully that can happen in the next few days."

Responding to CA's offer, an ACA spokesman criticised the board's late realisation of the need for urgency and reiterated the players' recent submission of the proposed heads of agreement and short-term contracts for the Bangladesh tour. However he indicated the ACA would examine CA's terms and maintain talks between Sutherland and Nicholson.

"In the spirit of doing all we can to resolve the dispute, the ACA will examine the correspondence provided by CA and any suggested parameters for arbitration before making further comment," he said. "And will continue to work intensively in the CEO-to-CEO negotiations which are currently taking place with a view to achieving resolution."