Rugby Australia have struck a new collective bargaining agreement that will guarantee women’s and men’s sevens and Super Rugby starters the same base pay.
An entry level salary of $44,500 has been mandated across these formats, while the agreement will last until the expiry of the current broadcast deal in 2020.
Top-level salaries will still be disparate between men’s XVs and others, but the move is a significant improvement for the women’s game. Women will also have a new pregnancy policy built into the agreement, which lasts until the expiry of the 2020 broadcast deal.
The deal follows Raelene Castle’s December appointment as chief executive of RA, where she acknowledged that the “female market is really hot” and that rugby union was in a “race … to be a sport of choice” for women.
Sevens co-captain Shannon Parry heralded the pregnancy policy as a significant breakthrough for women playing rugby union.
“We’re in such a different sport to most female athletes in terms of the physicality of the game, but to make sure you’re not prevented from wanting to have children and a family is vital,” she said.
“To have the security of being able to return to your contract gives our squad a sense that the door will always be open, and as we’ve seen with (gold medal winner and mother of two) Nicole Beck, there is absolutely no reason why you can’t come back and compete at the highest level after having children.”
Additionally, the Wallaroos, the women’s XVs side, has been included in the deal for the first time, meaning they will also be paid for the first time. They will receive match payments for any Test they play.
Previously, they have been considered amateur, and did not receive match payments.
The new collective bargaining agreement will also affect Super Rugby, with squads enlarged to between 36 and 40 players, compared with the previous 35 maximum. Given the axing of the Western Force, overall Super Rugby spots will still be down 175 to 160.
However, clubs will also receive a salary cap boost from $5m to $5.5m – with a 15 per cent reduction for veterans of the franchises effectively meaning a player salary increase of 10 per cent. Players will retain a 29 per cent revenue share.
Super Rugby players will also benefit from extra annual leave, while the agreement guarantees an NRC presence in Western Australia until the end of the broadcast deal.
The CBA comes after a difficult year for rugby union, with the controversial axing of the Western Force from the SANZAAR competition the biggest talking point. Many players have been left in limbo until today’s announcement.
The Super Rugby competition also suffered from low crowds and a struggling Australian contingent, none of whom could beat a New Zealand team.