The Refs Dispute

At peril of boring all of you with legalese, the pending arbitration in the Fair Work Commission regarding the referees' dispute is not only fascinating for industrial lawyers, but may have very wide ranging implications within industry at large.

I have not availed myself of a copy of the Referees' Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (for those that are interested, it is available here https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/documents/agreements/fwa/ae503608.pdf) but, speaking generally, the Fair Work Commission does not have the power to 'rewrite' an industrial instrument such as a mutually agreed enterprise agreement 'on the fly'.

To provide some context, the Australian automotive industry was effectively torpedoed when the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AWMU) negotiated an economically unsound agreement such that the parent companies (Toyota Japan, Ford America and General Motors) pulled the pin on local manufacturing. At that point, the AMWU, terrified that some 15,000 of its members would lose their jobs, approached the Federal Court before his Honour, Justice Bromberg, and pleaded that the Court 'rewrite' the enterprise agreement such that it would be less burdonsome on the parent companies and they would continue maunfacture in Australia.

His Honour found that the Fair Work Act did not provide him sufficient power to take such remedial action and the result was the closure of Australian automotive manufacture.

What we now find is that the ARLC is in dispute with the referees' union over a unilateral amendment to their enterprise agreement to vary NRL match conditions from two referees to one. Peter V'Landys and the ARLC have been in negotiation with the union to come to agreement over a variation but, at this point, no agreement has been reached and, as such, the parties will appear before the Fair Work Commission on Thursday to argue their respective points.

This is interesting on a number of levels. Firstly, the Commission, by law, should arrive at the conclusion that they do not have the power to compel the unilateral variation to the enterprise bargaining agreement and so the referees should win. However, the Commission has shown, by way of amendments to a tranche of Modern Awards that they are prepared to be 'agile' whilst in the shade of the COVID pandemic. 

If they agree to amend the referees' enterprise agreement, Rugby League should resume as programmed on 28 May 2020, but, if it does not agree, the ARLC will likely have few options other than to backtrack and revert to the two referee system. At that point, if the ARLC sack the referees who don't wish to officiate an NRL game solely, they will be in breach of the General Protections Provisions, having taken adverse action against employees' who exercised their workplace right to take lawful industrial action. That legal liability alone will cost the NRL well more than the proposed $2M savings in reducing the games to the supervision of one referee. 

Here's where it gets really interesting. If the Fair Work Commission do vary the enterprise agreement, it opens up a massive Pandora's Box. It effectively grants every employer in this country to argue that it can contravene any industrial instrument to which it is bound by way of the changed landscape due to COVID.

This is a very interesting case of 'watch this space'. No matter the outcome, it will have ramifications that reach beyong the four walls of Rugby League!

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    • Hope not Mick, Daz will want the farts recorded in the Collective Bargaining.... its interesting how the detail comes into something that should be basic and fundamental..... the union movement has shit in its own nest in so many areas and the reality is everything is subjugated into politics..... teachers being one of the worst.

      All of a sudden the referees are in a situation where to be frank they have no right to be.....they don't make the rules they enforce them.... likewise the police enforce and don't make the laws.

      The good teacher and the good cop will be the ones that enforce fairly and in practical terms and do not get lost in pedantic nit picking which shits everyone off.

      I am a great believer we should go about reducing rules and just enforce the fundamentals and forget some of the tecnicals that no one understands..... no better than your/our great game of Rugby Union where you just about need a law degree to understand the technicalities.

      KISS..... Keep it simple stupid!......should be a way we try to do everything and it should be in every corporate and business plan.

      • Well, Poppa, at least you woke up to the dismal facts of Yawnion. There is hope for you yet

        • You know I like you, dont you Daz.

          You fear nothing and say what you think, which is great. 

          You remind me of my Tibetan Spaniel....extremely intelligent, fundamently disobedient with a strong will, but shit she barks at everything..... it was what they were bred to do, the Tibetan Monks had them as a warning dog and then had the Mastiffs as enforcers.....

          I wonder why they couldn't incorporate both into the one breed?......KISS

    • Dr Wong, That's an interesting view. Most fans expect the game to become more expansive. I'm not sure, yet.

      But, I suspect we'll see increased unpredictability and inconsistency for a while; as well as some lopsided, blowout scores. And some controversy where not all fans will be happy! Naturally, refs will still cop it from fans and some of the media eventually (though coaches may be more sympathetic than usual for while longer).

      It should speed up the game, until one team runs out of gas. Like you, I expect dummy half running, coupled with more street-smarts and nous in the ruck wrestle, to become far more critical in determining the outcome of the game in quicker fashion. If you can milk successive six agains' easily, tire the opposition, build up momentum and field position, until the ref cracks and starts handing out more severe penalties for a tiring sloppy defences that are used to slowing things down at the ruck (and burning penalties even). 

      I don't see the wrestle going away, rather teams getting smarter and more efficient at momentum stopping techniques and more effective gang tackles: do whatever it takes to wrestle or force the runner onto their back, or awkward positions to slow the play the ball. Fitness and mobility will be even more critical, especially for the teams losing the ruck battle, tiring under the weight of the oppositions' possession without a breather under six again. Conversely, you may see more running-n-diving from the dummy half runner to counter the ruck wrestle, to get successive quick play-the-balls and win 'six again'. Much will focus on dominating or winning the ruck and the ref over.

      Some teams will run out of gas, quicker, and then it will be all over red rover.  They'll be too tired to wrestle, then. Some expansive play should occur then, lol. Will be an interesting evolution in the game. Almost put it on steroids (wait until interchange is reduced to speed up the tiring process). I'm looking forward to it! Love the game and always will! Wrestle or not...

      • Agree with what your saying HOE, another rule that could be considered, no more than 3 in the tackle. In 2018 when the refs went haywire, Melbourne countered the penaltyathon by having 5 players in the tackle, the refs virtually had no choice but to let them peel off one by one, they continue to do it today. It is only natural it is going to take longer for 5 PLAYERS to get off the tackled player than 2 or 3. I think you will see a lot more short side raids from Moses and Guth, both are good at reading numbers.

        • Interesting aspect Mick and also what Hoe says about blow outs....i wonder if we will see more of an evening up in the ruck..... we once saw a lot of that from referrees, less so with the pocket i.e. descretion was taken away.

          I made reference in a previous post the physcology of referrees and "evening up" is one obvious aspect....this will be the really interesting things to watch.

          i.e if I was a coach I would be directing my players to be calling the referee sir, not arguing irrationally with them and generally pissing in their pockets! I could count on one hand the number of arguments with referrees that has caused them to change their mind.

          • yep, we were always taught not to argue the refs decision, play the whistle and get back into the action as quick as possible. 

            Refs respect that and you would get a lot of the "rub of the green". 50/50 calls suddenly go 60/40 your way. 

  • On field respect for the refs was imo lost mainly through their own actions, I am not talking about ref errors as they have always occurred. However when refs starting calling players by their christian names , allowed constant player disputes on calls and spent time telling players what should be done in accordance with the rules instead of just penalising they lost the plot and respect. The refs tried to be one of the boys and as a result gave up their authority and tipped  the balance of power to the players and coaches, they have themselves to blame. 

    • Excellent observation's Cal and all so true!

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