June 2, 2017

Ditch your proposals and start again

Cricket Australia and the players' association are both rigidly holding on to their world views, without actually negotiating at all
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It's time to negotiate afresh © Getty Images

During the recent healthcare debate in the United States, the concept of pre-existing conditions as a factor in health insurance became such a focus that a Kenny Rogers tune was frequently paraphrased as "just dropped in to see what precondition my precondition was in".

In recent weeks, a similar quip could easily be made about the impasse in talks between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association. At length, the two parties have expressed their desire to talk to one another but have failed to actually do so while levelling accusations of setting unrealistic preconditions for negotiation.

At CA's Jolimont headquarters, there is general refusal to agree to talk by citing the ACA's precondition - inked into its MoU proposal - that retention of the fixed percentage revenue model is a must. Over the Yarra River in South Melbourne, the ACA has been equally adamant that CA's negotiators have set their own precondition by stating that their current pay offer - rather than the soon-to-expire MoU drawn up in 2012 - must be the starting point for talks.

While there appeared to be a breakthrough of sorts this week when the players expressed their willingness to compromise on which streams of revenue they should be entitled to, the CA response remained bolted down to the concept of talking about their proposal as if it was the only way forward. Quoth the chief executive James Sutherland to the Age on Thursday:

"I hope those comments are a good sign. Certainly CA remains ready, willing and able to negotiate so that the flexibility built into our proposal can finally be explored."

Given the gaping ideological, cultural and policy-detail distances between the two parties, continued reference to each other's proposals, offers and presentations has served to entrench difference, regardless of clauses on both sides about common ground. CA's internal belief that it should be able sit down with the ACA and start by discussing common ground before leaving the more contentious issues for later is fair enough in theory, but the practicalities are far more problematic.

In any dispute of this kind, an admission of fault on both sides is necessary to reset the discussion

There appears a strong sense that the strategies of both sides have been constructed in the vacuum of their own respective offices, and left little room for divergence should circumstances change. Sutherland's letter to the ACA last month indicated that the board was intent upon what amounted to a staged ultimatum leading to war if the players did not back down: an urge to get back to the negotiating table, contract offers to players based on the current offer, then unemployment for all out-of-contract players from July 1 onwards.

Similarly, the ACA's approach in the absence of meaningful discussion with CA has been largely about preparing for a long, cold winter of non-compliance with the aforementioned diktats. There is a financial contingency fund for players put out of pocket; a new company called The Cricketers' Brand for leveraging intellectual property with commercial partners after the expiry of deals with CA; and tentative plans for numerous players to fly off to chase the T20 dollar overseas in the event of their existing CA schedules being freed up by unemployment.

All the while, the two proposals have sat there unchanged. CA's is titled: "A Fair Deal For All Players, Now And In The Future", which some players have taken to view with the same scepticism that those on the receiving end of a particularly bruising encounter with the Australian cricket team in the past may look upon the euphemism "we play hard but fair". For its part, the ACA's was titled: "Growing the Game For Everyone", and featured a proposed pay model referred to as "Win/Win".

Two things are now clear about both proposals. First, neither party can stand the sight of the other's handiwork. Secondly, both documents contain the sorts of assumptions and simplifications inherent in any policy document worked up without enough communication with those it is bound to affect.

Play 03:46
The pay dispute explained

One of the chief problems with CA's offer is that its division of what Steven Smith calls "the playing group" into international and domestic players, with only the former to receive any "blue sky" above and beyond fixed wages, simply does not pass muster. There is far greater complexity in the relationship between players arrayed around the states, the Australian duties of some, and the BBL secondments of many more.

Sheffield Shield matches do not generate their own profits, yet without that competition there would be no international players. The BBL is an area of looming financial growth for the game via the next broadcast rights deal, yet the vast majority of its participants spend all but six weeks of the year preparing themselves for it by training and playing with their states. This is without mentioning how overseas players take up a big enough chunk of BBL salary caps, so that CA's "average payment" figure is distorted by box office names who will never play for Australia.

On the ACA's side, a proposal to "cap" the board's administrative spending at 55% is a red rag to what is already a highly corporatised - and far from union-friendly - CA bull, its nine independent directors in particular. CA's contention that the ACA has overstepped its bounds as a players' association is debatable, but there is little point in pushing the envelope further unless the intention is to escalate the dispute rather than resolve it.

Likewise, the suggestion that 22.5% of the game's revenue should go to fund grass-roots facilities and competitions sounds fine on paper, but lacks the nuance, detail and knowledge required to make such a split actually happen. Sutherland was correct in this sense last week when he observed: "While the ACA has addressed [grass roots] to some extent, they don't know anywhere near the detail we do in terms of what is involved in managing these issues both at an operational level and at a strategic and policy level."

What's needed, then, is a way for the two parties to sit down and talk without being constrained by the extremes of their own rhetoric or respective proposals, as they have been over more than 20 hours of face-to-face meetings so far. The best way forward may in fact be to agree to meet without bringing either proposal to the table - with or without mediation present.

To do that would require a level of humility that neither side have shown so far, since it would serve to discard much of the research and projection work done in each office over the past year or more. Policy advisors at the mercy of jumpy, poll-chasing politicians in Canberra will be able to relate to that one.

But in any dispute of this kind, an admission of fault on both sides is necessary to reset the discussion. To admit that CA and the ACA should actually have worked together on drawing up the next MoU rather than firing each other's ideal world view at one another, via proposals, press releases and interviews, would be a start. That would then offer up the welcome possibility of a true negotiation without preconditions, on either side.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Andre Sookdar on June 4, 2017, 16:25 GMT

    I hope Australian cricket does not go the way of WI cricket. The lure of IPL and other T20 leagues is great for players and CA has to take that into consideration when offering the players their contracts. The WICB has basically banished players who didn't agree with them and enforced contracts they say are fair from the grassroots come up yet the first class cricketers will never be able to live on the athlete's salary alone and almost all have primary jobs away from cricket. When players advance, they would be sought by T20 leagues and then the WICB will now banish them and the cycle continues. Make a fair balance, especially since the IPL has an approved window. Don't lose your players due to stubbornness.

  • Jon on June 4, 2017, 14:08 GMT

    The difference between this and Brexit is while no deal may be Britains best option, this will not be the case for the Aussie players. We have seen how quickly players effectiveness and value in T20 franchise cricket drops off once they are no longer playing international cricket and if any player strikes administrators have a history all over of getting their own back eventually.

  • David on June 4, 2017, 3:36 GMT

    As they say, the biggest thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history. To those hoping that an "external stimulus" will bring the parties together, history tells us that stubborn human pride is more powerful than virtually anything else.

    Packer. WSC. Do you think cricketing civil war won't happen again, with the resulting decimation of the national team? It'd be a miracle if it doesn't!

  • Sam on June 3, 2017, 17:32 GMT

    'Just Dropped In' was written, and originally performed, by Mickey Newbury, not Kenny Rogers. So technically not a "Kenny Rogers tune" though it was a good cover.

  • Jose on June 3, 2017, 10:31 GMT

    @dunger.bob on June 2, 2017, 23:48 GMT

    Frankly, Bob, I also lost interest quite a bit, despite this being both in my area of profession & passion. In fact, I was focusing on the India-based issues & CT. Just of curiosity, came here just to check.... Finding a new piece, just registered my attendance.

    If anyone is looking for a 'good' example of absolute obstinacy, this one is as good as anything I can think of.

    I sincerely hope, the the need for the renewal of the contract, as you suggested, may turn out to be the required external stimulus. But, I will not bet my house on it though.

    Once in a while, I will keep coming to these threads to see whether there is anything new. That's about it, as of now, Bob.

  • umeshg6012033 on June 3, 2017, 8:13 GMT

    Australia will out of league in Ct and CA will have a chance to scrap all palyers. Chill now you dont have to see smith, warner and other in australian side

  • heathq1437344 on June 3, 2017, 4:03 GMT

    It is CA wanting the change the revenue sharing agreement, the players don't want it, so it is CA that needs to go back to the table not the ACA. The ACA has shown it's willingness to negotiate on the current revenue sharing arrangements. I think the CA are pushing so hard on this because they are trying to feather their own nest with the new income streams coming in - in short massive pay rises in to Peever and his management team. It served cricket Australia well for the past 20 years and now when good profit is going to be made they want to change, all sounds and looks to me that they are serving self interest and not the interest of cricket. The whole board needs to be sacked if this leads to strike action, as they have brought the game into disrepute. I back the ACA and the players here and I am not a CA or ACA troll pushing an agenda.

  • izzido8204666 on June 3, 2017, 1:36 GMT

    Aussie cricket has hit a new low in world cricket in recent years in all forms that it reminds me of some teams in the Indian subcontinent where politicians too interfere in team selections and the administration of the game. The recent remark by the Minister of Sport Greg Hunt that the Australian Government may have to intervene to sort out this impasse between the Australian Cricketers Association and Cricket Australia to prevent a total boycott of the ashes by some cricketers doesn't augur very well for Australian cricket. The stubborn attitude of CA to compromise and negotiate a reasonable deal with the ACA has only helped to prolong this pay dispute indefinitely to the detriment of Australian cricket. Both the Australian Cricketers Association and Cricket Australia should cast aside their differences and negotiate a reasonable deal as soon as possible otherwise drastic changes need to be made in the administration of the game to sort out this mess in Australian cricket.

  • David on June 3, 2017, 1:31 GMT

    I hope the CA board is listening to Michael Kasprowitz on this matter. The current day CA board member and former ACA President is a source informed and strategic guidance at the CA board table if listened to. He has of course been completely silent on this issue in public, but as cricket fans surely we have a right to know his perspective. Perhaps it is time for our Assistant editor to pressure the CA board to let MK speak. Cometh the hour, cometh the man Daniel Brettig.

  • rob on June 2, 2017, 23:48 GMT

    @ Jose: As you may have surmised from the lack of comments, many of us are losing interest in this. Both parties are still playing the stalling game and there's nothing much happening. Hopefully that will change soon though because the deadline is now less than 4 weeks away. It's nearly time to get serious and start talking and I'm sure that will happen. Both sides are stubborn but neither is completely stupid. They'll talk. .. With your Mexican standoff analogy, may I be so bold as to suggest an alternative to the Ashes as the required external stimulus? What about the contract deadline. 30th June (EOFY in Oz). As I understand it, if there's no resolution by then what we will have is a bunch of cricketers without an employer and a cricket board without any players. Surely that's enough to get these guys off their backsides and into the conference room. If it's not, I give up. Truly, I will. .. @Trimzi: But mate, the ICC isn't involved in this dispute. It's purely an Oz thing.

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