English players’ union warns of ‘legal dispute’ in rugby pay row

The English Premiership is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic

The English Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) warned on Wednesday of a “significant legal dispute” if pay cuts introduced in response to the coronavirus became a permanent feature in the English Premiership.

Many players accepted a temporary 25 percent pay cut after professional rugby union ground to a halt in March because of the pandemic.

But with the season now set to resume on August 15, well beyond its original finish date and at a time when a number of contracts have expired, the RPA said it was “unequivocally” opposed to making the cuts permanent.

England’s 12 top-flight clubs met earlier this week and the RPA said Wednesday they had “unanimously agreed to reduce unilaterally the salary cap”, even though there has been no announcement to that effect from Premiership Rugby Limited (PRL).

The salary cap currently stands at £7 million ($9 million).

“Most of the players have already had temporary 25 percent pay cuts since March and April as a result of the unprecedented financial challenges exposed by COVID-19,” RPA chairman Mark Lambert said in a statement.

“PRL have been seeking agreement to reduce players’ wages permanently by 25 percent across all PRL clubs.

“This was unanimously rejected by the players’ board.”

Lambert called for talks with the PRL.

“This latest situation could have been entirely avoided with a collaborative and transparent approach and we now find ourselves heading towards a significant legal dispute unless meaningful and genuine dialogue takes place urgently,” he said.

Lambert added it was “totally unacceptable” that players at some clubs were “being served with ultimatums” to sign amended contracts through what he called the “manufactured deadline” of June 18.

“Players should not engage with this approach,” he said. “The RPA will continue to fight for our members throughout this crisis.”

A Premiership spokesman contacted by us said they had nothing to say in response to the RPA’s statement “at this stage” and nor was there an announcement regarding any salary cap reductions.

The row takes place against the backdrop of the Saracens scandal, which will see the reigning Premiership champions relegated to the second-tier next season for breaches of the salary cap.

Saracens’ conduct led PRL to commission a review into its rules led by former British government finance minister Paul Myners.

Among Myners’ suggested reforms was that the Premiership drop a rule allowing clubs to have two “marquee players”, whose wages are exempt from the current regulations.

Harlequins chief executive Laurie Dalrymple said this week they would be “supportive” of the salary cap being lowered, given “virtually all clubs are losing more money than they are bringing in”.

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