8th Aug 2011
The West Indies Players Association welcomes the start of negotiations to revise the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the WICB and WIPA. Cricket fans are not hearing much about cricket these days. Instead, they are hearing about disputes which lead to mediation, arbitration and even litigation. Fortunately, this is time to get back on track. The parties need to resolve all differences at the Bargaining table, start the 2011 – 2012 season on time, and set a positive course for the future of our great game. In so doing, to aid the negotiation process and foster free discourse among the parties, WIPA has appointed two independent and impartial leaders in Caribbean dispute resolution to head its negotiations – Dave Kissoon and Michael Hall. WIPA has done so with the hope that the WICB will also reciprocate and remove any existing barriers to successful negotiations.
As you know, the present agreement has been in force since October 1, 2005. I am the only person present here today who was present at the inception of the process at a meeting on April 3, 2003, between the WICB led by the Reverend Wesley Hall, then President of the Board, and WIPA. I was there in my capacity as President CEO of WIPA.
This was just after communications between the WICB and WIPA had almost completely broken down. When we did meet, both parties were fully aware of the need to set the relationship between us on a more equitable, rational and objective basis. Reverend Hall said that the playing field was not level and he wanted to ensure that it would become level and remain so in the future. He stressed that the relationship could not continue to be one-sided in favour of the WICB and that West Indies Cricket could never again achieve the pinnacle of cricketing success if it continued to remain so. He also maintained that the issues were essentially within what can be considered the industrial relations domain and that he believed that we should set the relationship between the Board and the Players on an industrial relations platform that respected the rights of all parties.
Reverend Hall and his Board were so certain that the process was the best for West Indies Cricket that they sought to ensure that no future President, CEO or Board could unilaterally change or repudiate the Agreement. They also wanted to avoid any lock-outs like the one that the players of the National Football League of the U.S. just experienced and the one that is now confronting the NBA players. They face a one-year lockout. Had it not been for Reverend Hall’s foresight, this could have happened to all West Indies players at midnight on September 30, 2008. Fortunately this did not happen and, hopefully, will not happen again.
Reverend Hall accepted that even though the players were independent contractors, they were within their rights to have their own Bargaining Unit, one that represents all West Indies cricketers. This is what the Board wanted, for WIPA to be the Exclusive Bargaining Unit for all West Indian Cricketers. They wanted to deal with one agency only that represents the players. To reverse this will not benefit West Indies cricket. We have seen, and will be shortly discussing, proposals from the WICB which challenge the philosophy on which the present agreement is based. These proposals also challenge the principles of equity and justice which characterise the present agreement. However, this is a bargaining or negotiating session and we respect the process and expect that the lines of disagreement will eventually converge. That is why we are here. As we did when we met with Reverend Hall and his team, we will present our position and rationale on every issue and we hope that the WICB will do the same.
At the outset let me say that we don’t expect negotiations to be completed by September 30, 2011. It took almost three years to get the present agreement in place and despite the radical changes the WICB has placed on the table, the negotiations can be completed in two months. The WICB has to be willing to go back to the spirit of cooperation and partnership that guided the creation of the present CBA.
I believe that both the Board and WIPA – all of us, together – must recognise our shared responsibility as stewards of the game to compromise and reach a fair agreement – one that fairly compensates players, protects their health and safety, ensures the on-field competitiveness of the West Indies Cricket team, helps retired players and improves the fan experience and fan value. The best way to get there is to let each side exercise its rights under the agreement and within existing labour laws.
The WICB has indicated that it plans to end the agreement unilaterally. If this happens or if there is no continuity clause, we could be forced to come up with our own system that we think complies with the applicable laws, knowing that each and every aspect of it is potentially the subject of years of litigation and uncertainty. The effect of no CBA would not be great for the players, teams, or, most importantly, fans. For example, there could be no league-wide minimum player salaries, with many players making less than they do today, or no minimum team player costs. There are indications that the WICB is already considering varying the Provident Fund for players and placing limits on all other player benefits. We can also end up with a system where a disproportionate amount of money goes to “stars” and where lesser players struggle for survival. The very concept of a team would be rendered virtually inoperable. Our end-game, since 2003, has always been a balanced CBA that helps us grow and improve the game and the players.
The solution lies at the bargaining table in the process that begins today and, hopefully, will continue throughout the duration of the revised and subsequent agreements. Everyone should realise what is at stake, especially in this present economy. Right now, fans are caught in the middle listening to rhetoric and legalese they don’t want to hear. What they want is to hear – and see- is the West Indies back at the top of world cricket winning game after game.
The people of the region have started to ask the very serious and extremely important question, “Who owns West Indies Cricket?” Increasingly this question will be asked, and answered, in ways that the present administration will not like unless there is respect for the rights of players, the disciplinary process, and the dispute resolution process.
We believe that there must be a symbiotic or a synergistic relationship between the players and the administration, one that brings joy to the fans, sponsors and all other stakeholders, including the political directorate, through a team that is victorious and a system that is successful and sustainable. This is what any revision or new CBA should seek to capture and enshrine. It has to be the starting point for the negotiations.
Increasingly the administration of cricket in the West Indies is becoming what is called an “obsolete paradigm”. This is why it should seize on this opportunity to regain some self-respect and improve its image in the eyes of cricket fans and players alike. This is the time to negotiate in good faith and to try to make this partnership, to which WIPA is deeply committed, work on behalf of the best interests of West Indies Cricket.
It is on this basis that the WIPA team welcomes the start of the negotiations today. It is on this basis that we of WIPA and all our members will continue to act in good faith and even optimism so that the real owners of West Indies cricket, the fans and supporters, will have reason to be pleased and once again be proud. It is on this basis that we recall and remember the spirit of the agreement which we, together with Reverend Hall and his team, created and which we will strive to protect and preserve.
The current ball of confusion needs to become a winning cricket season fast; the kind of cricket season that West Indian fans and the world at large have grown to love and that has made our brand of cricket so popular everywhere.