The ongoing pay dispute between A-League clubs and players has reached an ugly new low, with Perth Glory owner Tony Sage threatening to stand down players and staff if a new pay deal can’t be reached.
In an open letter to Glory fans on Sunday, Sage slammed the players union – Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) – for refusing a 30 per cent pay cut for the 2021 season.
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“This is unsustainable for our club and hence I may have to make the very hard decision to once again stand down our players and staff until the situation is resolved,” Sage wrote. “We have been transparent with PFA. A 30 per cent reduction is what the game needs to survive and what it can afford.”
For the first time, the group of clubs – The Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) – are negotiating directly with the PFA as the Football Federation Australia takes a back seat.
But the independence the clubs have fought so hard for has not come easily, and the stalled negotiations could force the FFA to step in.
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Players finished the season on reduced wages after the competition restarted following a pandemic-enforced suspension, and many spent time in hubs away from family – including Wellington Phoenix’s extended stint across the Tasman. Most of the A-League’s 11 clubs continue to pay their players less than their full wages, with Western Sydney Wanderers players believed to only be receiving JobSeeker payments.
But, Sage claims, the cuts are necessary due to significantly reduced revenue.
“The clubs are the only group prepared to put money into the game at the moment,” his statement read.
“In Perth Glory’s case, our revenue from the broadcast rights has dropped by almost 50 per cent and in light of the unprecedented worldwide pandemic, our gate receipts remain uncertain because of WA’s hard borders.
“These border restrictions will be another huge hit to our revenue of about 30 per cent.
“So in total, Glory’s total revenue may drop by up to 75 per cent for the upcoming season.”
Sage has long complained of the difficulty of being an owner in the competition, previously stating ownership has cost him millions of dollars per season. And earlier this year, he was caught up in an embarrassing attempt to sell a partial stake in the club to a cryptocurrency business – a deal that unravelled after it was revealed Sage’s potential business partner Jim Aylward was facing a $US2.2million (A$3.3m) lawsuit in the UK High Court for partaking in ‘fraudulent misrepresentations’.
But while Sage claimed the PFA had rejected a blanket 30 per cent pay cut, this is not believed to be entirely accurate. For example, a number of players are on minimum wage and cannot have their payments reduced. But the PFA is concerned clubs will be able to pick and choose which players will have their pay slashed – with veterans and injured players facing significant uncertainty over their contract futures.
The proposed pay deal from the clubs is believed to state that individual players will have just one week to accept their deal or terminate their contract.
The PFA swiftly hit back at Sage’s ‘threats and misleading commentary’ in a brief statement.
“Talks remain ongoing with the clubs in an effort to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and the Perth Glory players were due to meet with their club tomorrow to have further discussions,” PFA co-chief executive Beau Busch said in the statement.
“Attempts to pressure the players through threats and misleading commentary is unhelpful and damaging, particularly while the players continue to work in good faith to reach a solution.”
Sage’s public blast of the players ratcheted up the pressure to sign a deal. But it may just be the catalyst for the FFA to intervene in the negotiations.
The FFA previously said in a statement: “FFA are actively monitoring the negotiations between the APFCA and PFA and remains committed to supporting the parties in these negotiations.
“As FFA continues to monitor these negotiations, if the parties cannot reach agreement, FFA will enter the negotiations at the appropriate time.”