Christian Welch has described the negotiations between the NRL and Rugby League Players’ Association (RLPA) over the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as “frustrating” with discussions continuing to drag on.
“There’s been a real lack of trust between the two parties which has been really disappointing because we’re not close to an agreement at all,” Welch told SEN.
The NRL hasn’t taken the RLPA “seriously” during negotiations
On the eve of Christmas last year, the NRL announced a landmark change to the salary cap which included a 25 per cent hike to $12.1 million for 2023 and included an increase on the minimum salary for all male players in a club’s top 30 squad.
MORE: NRL announce record salary cap increases with the 2024 cap yet to be confirmed
However, this news was met with criticism from the RLPA who claimed the announcement had “resulted in great confusion and chaos” following the NRL’s alleged refusal to consult with the playing group during the process.
“To announce new salary caps for players without their agreement and bypassing their association is unprecedented,” RLPA chair Deidre Anderson said.
“To the best of our knowledge, clubs were also not provided with the details of the new salary caps and player payment structure until approximately five minutes before the ARLC’s public announcement.
“For a governing body to set its own salary cap disrespects the entire player representation movement and the importance of collective bargaining.
“The announcement goes against negotiating in good faith and only damages the trust between the players and the governing body.
“While we are fully supportive of increases to the players’ salaries and other key player support programs – increases and support programs which we were attempting to negotiate – a CBA negotiation is more than just agreeing to a new salary cap.”
The Melbourne Storm forward reiterated these points when revealing how the negotiations have dragged on for an extended period due to the NRL’s steadfast refusal to engage with the RLPA in a timely manner around key financial details.
“It’s been a really frustrating process,” Welch said.
“14 months ago, we tried getting the ball rolling on financial information and trying to get requests to the NRL. It took 7 months to get there when we got there in June.
“We’ve really been waiting to get to the table and talk with the NRL but there’s been a real lack of…I don’t think they take the RLPA seriously.”
Andrew Abdo announces record salary cap for 2023
Upon the surprise announcement of the deal, NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo championed it while underlining how setting a salary cap in stone for 2023 was a move in the right direction for the game.
“The ARL Commission are taking a leadership position, we don’t have to do this, but we want to provide certainty for contracting purposes, certainty for clubs and certainty for the players,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
“There are record increases for the male and female players, which is exciting.”
He also stressed how the negotiations were still ongoing and that there was plenty of room left for further negotiation.
The terms related to player payments and benefits along with future representative fees and education funds.
“It is not appropriate for the players to be rushed into agreeing to a financial proposal two days before Christmas,” Anderson argued at the time.
Playing group want a quick resolution to the CBA discussions as NRLW continues to be impacted
As a result of the original deadline in October having long since passed, stagnation has started to set in across the code with clubs and players forced to operate in line with the old agreement.
“We’ve been ready to go since last November and it’s just been delays, delays and delays,” Welch declared.
“The women’s teams are the ones who are doing it particularly tough at the moment.
“None of them are able to sign any contracts so if you get injured at training or at work, your chances of securing a contract are small.”
This was highlighted by Jillaroos star and former Dally M medal winner, Emma Tonegato, when she explained how her life had essentially been in limbo since a deal hadn’t been agreed upon.
She claimed hundreds of other women in the NRLW were also experiencing similar circumstances.
“In terms of clubs, I have had a few meetings here and there, but I can’t really decide on anything until things are sorted,” Tonegato told the NCA NewsWire.
MORE: Stalled CBA negotiations beginning to severely impact the NRLW
“The CBA is a bit tricky, so I’m just trying to figure out where we stand, when the competition will start and what we’re going to do for work.
“I work full-time, so I need to know if I’m going to transition into part-time work or focus full-time on footy next year.
“It’s all up in the air at the moment and that’s really frustrating when I’m trying to sort out my life because I need to let my employers know what’s happening.”
Welch underlined how the playing group as a whole had become tired of the negotiations and now wanted to reach a resolution quickly with the new season drawing nearer.
“We need the NRL to bring us along on the journey and I just feel like there’s not a whole lot of respect for the RLPA,” he said.
“Hopefully, we can build that relationship back up. We just want to get a deal done, stop talking about this and focus on footy.”