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 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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          • Cheers Poppa, the later mate we seen enough league to understand what the games about and what's been dished up over the 10 years. We have some great people on the site that drop wisdom like yourself and others 

        • Yeah, good points Mick. It's a good idea and definately worth a try, but I want to see it in action, before I make any conclusions on the six again with one ref. At least it gives refs the opportunity to not stop the play.

          Also, isn't V'landys' already looking at changing the interchange rules next year, to introduce more fatigue into the game as you suggested (it might also bring back more nippy little guys)?


          • True HOE time for the skillful players to standout 

            • Interesting reading these last dozen posts or so about wrestling and its origins..... I can go back to the early sixties and tell you Rugby league was always called "mobile wrestling."... it was one of the descriptions used by the various codes when they criticised each other or argued about which games was best ..... Aussie Rules was "aerial ping pong" Union was for the "leather patch brigade" and soccer was for "girls". 

              The main changes that have taken place is the microscopic examination of the game through video and TV...... once upon a time unless you went to every match the only football you saw was half a game on the ABC in black and white.

              We have this same perception about "political correctness" it has ruined  everthing right to the 3rd decimal point...... Refs make mistakes.....someone says a wrong decision cost the game but the reality that decision only happens many times by slow motion replays, strategic camera angles and the perception of right and wrong. We had the captains challenge this year and the players got more wrong than right......accept refs make decisions at the time and thats it, bunker accepted.

              Rugby league is a pretty simple game, lets not weigh it down with technicalities.....some people on here remind me of the medical experts through the virus lockdown.... its simple they don't want to be responsible for making a mistake, people and lives are being lost through this indecision because we "seem to need" to always blame someone!

              Lets get over it!

              • You've raised some interesting comparisons Poppa, I don't understand the obsession with getting every call which is impossible - although there is a rule book some decisions are subjective and can be questionable. The over reach in officiating is ridiculous and the investment in the bunker is excessive and laughable. I still think in most cases if you don't get the rub the green the team that plays with the right intent and effort usually take home the spoils. Less is more as they say

              • in the past players would rarely approach the ref to question a call  because  there was less stoppages in play now were use to captains like cam smith and others having comittee meetings and stopping play players of the past would be shaking thier heads! how did it come this? anyway we are headed in the right direction now

  • I wonder if that female referee will still get a run in first grade, probably not me thinks.

    • Come on Adam .....vlandys is not a mysognist!

      We all have our faults I suppose? he's only human

    • Adam any money she will; we have been woke for a few yrs now...but in reality if she is good enough like them all then she should and if not, reggies.


  • I listened to the "Six tackles with Gus" podcast yesterday and Gus made the point that this all started years ago when referees were turned into a full time profession and their profile was raised. Then the referees became a department of the game, and then someone decided they were stakeholders in the game, till finally they associated and suddenly decided they were as important to the game as the players. Then they demanded to be involved in the rules committees and how the rules were implemented & interpreted. Now they are holding the game to ransom.

    In the end, if nothing else PVL has put the referees on notice on their place in the game, they should be seen & not heard. They are employees and they will do as they are told. They shouldn't, and clearly under PVL they won't, have a say in the way the game is run or officiated. If the ARLC or the NRL executive decide to change the rules or the way they expect it to be officiated, the refs will be informed, not consulted. 

    Exactly as it should be.

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