What are Collective Bargaining Agreements - and how are they used in Sport?

Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation through which the workers as a whole, rather than as individuals, negotiate with their employer. This means workers are often able to secure better pay and working conditions. In the context of sports, owners and players/participants negotiate their terms and conditions, which benefit the team as a whole.

These negotiations, once concluded, lead to a collective bargaining agreement – a legally enforceable commercial agreement governing the relations between the sportsmen and women and their club. However, collective bargaining agreements in sport is mainly a US model for now, though they are used to some extent in UK sport. For instance, the Professional Football Compensation Committee (incorporated under the rules of the FA and Premier League) forms part of the collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Footballers’ Association.

What is discussed during the collective bargaining process?

Important issues on the table during the collective bargaining process include:

  • Wages
  • Hours
  • Conditions of employment

These are mandatory subjects, while others are ‘permissive’ (voluntary or non-mandatory) subjects. The parties are lawfully able to refuse to bargain over permissive subjects.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement

The collective bargaining agreement will establish the rules and regulations of the relationship between the parties as agreed. Once the parties have entered into collective bargaining, they must bargain in good faith.

What is in the collective bargaining agreement?

Collective bargaining agreements cover a full range of rights and responsibilities between the management and the players. Although bargaining agreements may vary between sports, the following issues will typically be covered:

  • Club discipline
  • Non-injury grievances
  • Injury grievances
  • Base salaries
  • Access to personal files
  • Medical rights
  • Retirement

What is the position in the Football Association Premier League in relation to the contracting of players?

Players who ply their trade in the Football Association Premier League are required to sign a contract with the individual Premier League club who obtains their services. This will be along the terms established by the standard FA Premier League contract which all players must sign. This is governed, in part, by various collective agreements as well as the Football Association (FA) Rules and Premier League Rules. Once a player has signed with a club the club will be required to register his contract with the FAPL and the FA.

The ownership of the players therefore rests with the individual clubs and not the league. Players playing football in England also have a union representing their rights – the Professional Footballers Association (PFA).

What will be provided for in the FAPL contract?

The FAPL contract deals with a variety of issues, such as the length of the contract (maximum five years) and the club’s ability to use the images of players in a collective sense (rather than the players right to use their images in an individual sense).

If the players are required to sign a standard FAPL contract, how does this differ from the collective bargaining process?

Though players must sign a standard FAPL contract containing a variety of standard terms, there are some terms which can be individually negotiated by the players with their club. Most often, these are most important terms for the player and relate to wages, and also additional playing bonuses that they will be entitled to.

This means that under the current FAPL system, there is individual bargaining between the clubs and the individual players and their agents.

Are there any advantages to operating a system of collective bargaining?

The advantages of using a collective bargaining process in UK football includes:

  • Players would be put on an equal footing in the contractual process
  • Players out of contract would be looked after as the Governing Body would find them a new club
  • If the union bargains on behalf of the players, this may remove the role of agents in the contractual process in relation to the playing contracts of players
  • The interests of the league would be put before the clubs

Are there any disadvantages to operating a system of collective bargaining?

However, there are potential disadvantages, including:

  • The governing body may be seen to have too much control, taking this away from the clubs
  • If agents can only handle commercial contracts rather than playing contracts, even more pressure may be placed on the commercial side at the expense of the playing
  • If an agreement cannot be reached between the union and the league, the players will be entitled to strike. This may result in the postponement of fixtures of even the league
  • If an agreement cannot be reached between the union and the league, the use of arbitration may be required – which would see the internal matters of sport being dealt with externally within the legal process

The European Model of Sport versus the US Model of Sport

Collective bargaining is a system adopted in the US since the 1960s, with baseball the first sport to adopt it. Under the US sporting model, there is no promotion or relegation in the leagues – with the emphasis on the competitive nature of the sport. This means there are not always the same teams who are consistently the most successful (the drafting of players each year, and the movement of players by the body in control of the league, is the best example of this). Control of players’ salaries also makes it possible for the teams to be on the same level playing field.

However, in Europe there exists a system of leagues all containing promotion and relegation, with the clubs in independent control of themselves. They may be regulated by the leagues, and the world, European and national governing bodies, but essentially the clubs are separate independent entities. If collective bargaining was to be introduced into the FAPL, for example, it would require a complete overhaul of the current system.

About the Author

Nicola Laver LLB

Nicola is a dual qualified journalist and non-practising solicitor. She is a legal journalist, editor and author with more than 20 years' experience writing about the law.

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