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AFLW 2022: Women players criticise AFL for not committing to a collective bargaining agreement

Frustrated women footballers have criticised the AFL for failing to commit to longer seasons, longer working hours and increased wages in AFLW.

A number of AFLW players spoke out on Monday and called for the league’s top dogs to agree to a collective bargaining deal that better rewards women in the sport.

The AFL is yet to nominate an exact start date for its coming season, leaving clubs and players scrambling to be ready for a proposed August competition after the last season ended in April.

Top-tier players earned $37,155-a-season in the recent CBA, plus any additional services agreements.

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St Kilda winger Cat Phillips, who is a member of the AFLPA’s negotiating group, said the rushed nature of both the season timeline and CBA negotiations was “ludicrous” and the time had come for players to be recognised for their elite standards.

“We want to be seeing genuine development and growth in the game, and that comes from playing more games and having the appropriate numbers of hours that we’re working and being paid for,” Phillips told the Herald Sun.

“We really believe in the product that we’re building and we want the AFL to demonstrate their commitment to that as well.”

Four new teams come into the competition this year but the league is pushing to keep the home-and-away season at 10 games for at least the next three seasons.

Phillips cited cricket and netball as prime examples of other sports that were investing in their female athletes.

“The AFL has a vision for AFLW to be the sport of choice for female athletes,” she said.

“This is a fantastic aspiration that is really well supported by the playing group, but in order for us to get there, it’s critical that the AFL continues to invest in AFLW players in the same way that other women’s sports are.”

In the last CBA, players were contracted for 10 hours a week, plus match days, for a total of 15 hours per week.

But in the height of the past season, many were putting in at least another 10 hours of unpaid overtime each week, on top of their day jobs.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he “understands the challenges” being faced by players and said he anticipated a deal to be imminent.

“It’s important that we have the right outcome for our female players, and for the 18 clubs … and for everyone in football generally,” he said on Monday.

“I hope people understand that moving into an early start date without a collective bargaining agreement takes some time.

“Players know we will be playing in August, clubs have been given provisional dates … I’m optimistic we’ll have an announcement in the next day or two.”

AFLPA boss Paul Marsh said while negotiations showed the two parties to be aligned on some matters, “we remain a fair way apart on key areas including salaries and games”.

“The players and the AFLPA are frustrated with the lack of specific vision for the AFLW competition,” he told the Herald Sun.

“And we have set a target of 2026 for full-time professionalism. This agreement — whatever the length — must be a stepping stone towards that vision.

“That is driving our position in these negotiations.”

1st quater
Camera IconCollingwood star Chloe Molloy says AFLW players want recognition for their work. Credit: News Corp Australia

Collingwood star Chloe Molloy declared on Monday that “enough is enough”.

“Now that they don’t want us to play more games, where is the growth? Where is the investment in the competition and its players?” she said.

“We just want to be recognised for the work that we are doing — many of us in our own time.

“It’s just ridiculous and you can see why some players will just go ‘this is too hard’.”

Clubs remain in a holding pattern, working on a provisional pre-season start date of around June 13.

There are still no dates for the draft and sign and trade period.

Many players are still waiting on starting dates so they can organise living arrangements, balance their other employment, and lock in leave and care arrangements.

The players are set to meet again on Tuesday.

Out-of-contract Saint Kate McCarthy — a foundation AFLW player — has concerns for what the quick turnaround could mean for players’ lives.

“There’s no way at this stage, if this keeps going on, that we can start in August … from a health and safety perspective of us being able to do a proper pre-season,” McCarthy said.

“My concern is for the girls that don’t know where they’re playing next season — girls that have been in the system that maybe have been told they’re not getting a contract or that they’re going to trade.

“There’s no date set for any of that, so every club doesn’t know what’s going on.”

McCarthy said a failure to invest in the game would be failing the players.

Time to walk the walk

The AFL has failed to establish a business case to deliver fairness in women’s football, according to a gender equality advocate who previously served as an advisor on AFL Women’s.

Prue Gilbert, a gender workplace advocate who left the AFLPA’s women’s football advisory group in 2019 after what she viewed as a failure to deliver a level playing field for the elite women’s competition, said the time for talk was over and it was time for the league to walk the walk on the women’s game.

“The AFL wanted the kudos for creating a professional women’s league, but failed to establish a business case to deliver on it,” Gilbert said.

“To continue to say that AFLW players need to improve, that their wages will increase when the ratings do, and remind them how long it took for AFLM to turn professional is sex discrimination and I back the players taking action.

“Time doesn’t change things, people do.”

The AFL Players’ Association and the league remain locked in a back-and-forth on a new AFLW collective bargaining agreement as the league’s proposed August start date looms large, although league boss Gillon McLachlan affirmed on Monday that he considered a deal to be imminent.

Under the proposed timeline, AFLW players would begin pre-season within weeks, but remain without firm dates, pay structure or information around their employment hours as negotiations continue.

Many are faced with having to take unpaid leave from their employment or for some, facilitate 11th-hour moves across clubs and states.

Cricket Australia last week agreed to a one-year rollover of its agreement with women’s players, increasing the Women’s National Cricket League to a 12-game full home and away schedule from next summer, up from eight games.

In the move that was noted in AFLW circles, the cricketers also secured an average of an extra $7000 in match payments across the season.

The average annual salary for a female domestic cricketer that plays both WNCL and WBBL will increase to around $86,000 a year, in comparison to the current top-tier AFLW contract that is worth $37,155 plus any additional services agreements and only for the period of pre-season and season proper.

McLachlan said that season length had been a key element to discussions but that the league’s position was to “consolidate before we expand”.

“We know that broadly speaking, the female playing cohort want to play a longer season,” he said.

“It’s also our view is that we’re bringing four new teams on board, and we want to consolidate before we expand.

“That obviously is something that we’ve been discussing, and is a real issue for female players. Obviously we’re going from 14 to 18 (teams) and we want to consolidate before we expand. That’s been a key part of discussions.”

This wouldn’t happen in men’s game

Anxiety reigns for players across the globe — literally.

Irish Magpie Sarah Rowe remains in Europe as she awaits clarity on when to return to Australia, having made the agonising decision to walk away from her Gaelic football commitments in favour of an uncertain immediate AFLW future.

She says she has been living in “limbo”.

“You can’t talk about the progression of the women’s game and then not actually follow through on the things that are really important for the welfare of the players,” Rowe said from Ireland on Monday.

“Across the board with women’s sport, everyone talks about how we’re progressing and going in an upward trajectory, but things like this are still happening. I can’t imagine it happening in the men’s game.”

Rowe, 26, has in recent years played both AFLW and for Mayo in the All-Ireland Senior Ladies’ Football Championship on her home soil.

But despite hopes that she might be able to again make both work, she was forced to recently pull the final pin on her immediate Gaelic career.

“I was trying to make it work with Mayo but couldn’t give them any dates,” she said.

“They were like, are you available or not? We just had to call it. It’s been unfair on them, and so unfair on Irish players in the middle of it, too.”

She has also been forced to pass up lucrative sponsorship and branding opportunities in Ireland due to being unsure of where she will be located.

“If we were full-time, it would be no bother. When (the league) said jump I’d say how high?,” she said.

“But being part-time there’s a lot else to think about.”

Brisbane forward Dakota Davidson said the situation was “pretty frustrating”.

“Trying to sort out work and life and not knowing what’s going on is pretty draining,” Davidson said.

Back in Melbourne, North Melbourne and foundation player Kaitlyn Ashmore said to be inside a month out from an apparent pre-season and be in the dark was astounding.

“August is too soon now for zero information,” she said.

“It was the AFL’s idea to bring in expansion so soon. They want the product to get better yet giving us little to no support to do so.”

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