THURSDAY, May 19, 2022 marked a significant day in the history of AFLW, with a new collective bargaining agreement ushering in a new era for the League’s athletes.
The new CBA is a huge step forward in our quest for becoming full-time female footballers by 2026, and its announcement was met by a huge wave of relief and excitement from players, staff and fans alike.
The negotiation process was a long-winded, incredibly stressful and uncertain period as the future of the AFLW hung in the balance.
It was equally stressful and disappointing to have a our pre-season proposed to start within a month yet still not know where we sat as an organisation, with players unable to inform their employers of their upcoming commitments, while some couldn’t even be provided certainty on their playing careers or futures in the industry.
Like all negotiations, there were major sticking points that slowed the progression of the deal.
The main issue was the number of games to be played per season.
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The AFL initially proposed a three-year CBA with 10 games and four finals for the next three seasons.
As players, we felt this was worlds apart from where we wanted the League to progress to, and didn’t fit with the advancement towards our vision of the AFLW being full-time by 2026.
Whilst only playing 10 games in season seven is beneficial given we have already played season six in the same calendar year, a progressive increase of games each season is integral in building towards a full-time competition with each team playing each other once.
This progression is something that will be addressed in the next CBA.
The other issue I would like to see addressed again in the next CBA is the tiered payment structure.
While the tier system appears to be here to stay, its structure does not currently reward the players who play matches.
The current system works on a model of each club having two players on tier one, six on tier two, six on tier three and 16 players on tier four.
This model rewards the work of the top 14 players, while grouping the remaining 16 together on the lowest tier.
While the remaining 16 AFLW players are essentially paid the equivalent of an AFL rookie-listed player, there are no match payments in the AFLW system like there are for rookie-listed players in the AFL.
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Based on this current model, there are players in the AFLW who play every week but earn the same amount as players who don’t play a game all season.
The AFLPA proposed a tiered system with three players in tier one, seven in tier two, 11 in tier three, and nine in tier four, which would see the majority of the starting players paid above the minimum salary, rewarding their commitment to training and playing at the highest level.
The remaining nine would likely be the developing players and potentially first-year draftees who are finding their feet at AFLW level.
While these are issues to be considered at a later date, AFLW players are thrilled with the increase in player payment achieved this year.
The discrepancy in paid hours and actual hours was highlighted in multiple player surveys conducted by the AFLPA over the past few seasons, and this new CBA deal has produced a staggering 94 per cent increase in salaries across the competition to acknowledge the actual hours committed by players to the AFLW.
We have seen commitment to increases in professional support and resources for clubs including more support for players with children or players planning to have children and players required to relocate interstate.
The new CBA also shows improvements in funding for player development to support the huge number of new AFLW players entering the system this season.
The response from the AFLPA delegates and captains when the AFL tabled its final offer can best be summed up by Darcy Vescio’s response of ‘BRB, fainting’.
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This encapsulated the general feel of the wider playing group: that the offer had finally come close enough to what the players needed to be able to accept the deal and move forward.
The 2022 CBA, now agreed to by players and the AFL, has highlighted and solidified the commitment of the AFL to its investment in and commitment to the development of AFLW.
As players, we are incredibly thankful to have the support of our governing body to be progressive and continue to be one of the leaders in women’s sport across the country.
We can’t wait to get stuck into season seven, and I have no doubt it will be the best season yet.
Hayley Miller is Fremantle's AFLW captain