The Collective Bargaining Agreement

The signing of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between South African Football Players Union (SAFPU) and the Premier Soccer League (PSL) on the 28th March 2012 is a mammoth, hard-fought and joyful milestone for SAFPU.  This was a historic moment because this is the first CBA signed in Africa. We dip our revolutionary flag to the visionary leadership of the founders of this glorious movement representing the interests of professional footballers in South Africa. It is befitting that we honour the spirit of our former and current players, the former leaders under the stewardship of the late Nganzawe Mqwathi and Brian Baloyi. The journey to get the CBA signed started way back in 1997, and indeed this has been a long and at times treacherous road.

Whilst it was important for the PSL as an employer representative body to sign a CBA with SAFPU, it is indeed befitting that we congratulate the PSL for finally demonstrating leadership by doing the right thing. As one of the ten best leagues in the world, the PSL was found wanting because other leagues globally that it is compared with have long signed CBA’s with the unions that represent the players in those leagues. Recently the PSL through its Chairman Dr Irvin Khoza was elected to serve on the World League Association (WLA), and upon accepting the position as a board member of the WLA, Dr Khoza said “Premier Soccer League’s involvement in the formation of a global structure of premier division clubs is an indication that the local league is regarded in high esteem…  [This appointment] will encourage us to redouble our efforts in everything we do”. Within 5 days of the appointment to the WLA, the PSL finally signed the CBA with SAFPU that took over 15 years to negotiate!

To put things into perspective, it is worth noting that SAFPU is a member FIFPro (World Football Players Union). FIFPro is the worldwide representative organization for all professional players. More than 50,000 footballers in total are members of FIFPro through their various country player associations. FIFPro has been in existence since 1965 and currently has 43 members, 8 candidate members and 5 observers. The members of FIFPro includes amongst others Lionel Messi, Ronaldo, Pato, Rooney, Drogba, Lefa Tsutsulupa just to mention a few. FIFPro is recognized by FIFA as the only body representing the interest of the footballers. By extension, FIFPro Africa Division is also recognized by CAF as the body that represents the interests of African footballers. FIFPro Division Africa was created in September 2007 in Casablanca, Morocco and currently consists of eleven members – Cameroon, Egypt and South Africa form the board of the division.

This history is important to assist us to understand the role of SAFPU. In order for the PSL to be truly global, it had to comply with the basic rights afforded to the players by other leagues globally. However, this CBA was a hard fought victory that we at SAFPU pride ourselves with. Special mention must go to the team I worked tirelessly with to achieve this feat, Lefaso Matutoane and Johan Van Gaalen. The CBA puts obligations on us as SAFPU to do things differently so that going forward, we can serve our members better. The CBA allows us to have access to members at their workplace, something which has proven a bit difficult in the past. Going forward, armed with the CBA, this will not be an easy task, but it is a task which we will attain. It is not going to be easy because the teams do not make it easy for the players to join the union, yet when things go awry with the players, everybody including the teams blame SAFPU for not doing enough for the players.

We are constantly under attack from the media for being moribund and not attending to the needs of the players, which is unfair criticism. We are constantly dealing with agents or business managers of the players who actively encourage the players they represent not to join SAFPU. We are the first to admit as SAFPU that there is room for improvement in making SAFPU one of the best in the business. In June 2012, we will be going to our elective congress where we are going to discuss ways of ensuring that SAFPU remains relevant in this day and age and continues speaking to the challenges confronting members. At the pinnacle of the new ideas we have is to professionalize SAFPU, strengthen relations with the PSL and SAFA, and educate our members on their rights so that they understand the collective power they provide to SAFPU.

We will present for adoption programs that need to be pursued to serve the interests of our players, be they about education, skills to survive after retirement, contribution to social cohesion of the country through using their hero status and general improvement of the image of football players. The time has come where we will have tough love with the agents and business managers about their roles in representing the player’s business interests without them rubbishing the role of SAFPU. Truth be told, the CBA is a forte` and competence of SAFPU for the benefit of the players.

FIFA recognizes and regulates how the agents should conduct themselves, and we are in full support of the existence of these agents as they play other roles in the football lives of the players they represent. We call on those that masquerade as agents and are not yet recognized to write the SAFA exams that give them full rights to act as agents. In the final analysis, the football players need a team to play for where they will earn a salary. The teams need an association like the PSL to regulate affairs of the teams, which is currently the case, and the PSL needs to work harmoniously with the football association so that FIFA is happy. The players also need agents who will represent their business needs. The players also need to belong to SAFPU that will fight for their collective rights and benefits. All of us have a role to play, but different roles. We must all give each other space to discharge our mandates in the spaces that we operate in so that football and the football paying public get value for money. If we all demonstrate this leadership, we will all prevail.

The CBA signed is a step in the right direction. It has been a long road that has required patience and leadership on the part of SAFPU. To be where we are, what are some of the milestones in this journey?  In January 2002, the Union and the NSL entered into an Organisational Rights Agreement which afforded SAFPU the opportunity to organize its members and recognizing the Union as being representative of professional footballers. The Union and the NSL also agreed to discuss matters of mutual interest with a view to concluding a substantive collective agreement in due course that would regulate certain aspects of the employment relationship of professional footballers and professional football clubs.

Due course meant 10 years later! Then in October 2006, the Union and the NSL entered into an agreement to bring into being a bargaining chamber for the sport of professional football.  The parties remain committed to the ideal of a formal, registered, bargaining council for professional sport generally or if that is not possible professional football specifically. In pursuance of these aims the NSL in late 2011 at their AGM sought registration of the association so as to be able to conclude binding collective agreements in accordance with the letter and spirit of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 and also resolved to support the Union in bringing into being a registered bargaining council.

We are at a point of no return, and we applaud the NSL for coming to the party for the benefit of the game of football and the people who make the game tick – the players. The CBA introduces a Standard Professional Contract (SPC) that players and teams must sign. This contract will protect both parties and ensure that in line with our LRA, FIFPro, SAFA, FIFA and NSL rules, all parties to the agreement are happy at all times.

The CBA empowers SAFPU and at the same time puts obligations on us to serve our members. Similarly, the CBA makes it mandatory for the teams to conduct their affairs in a professional manner and in line with the Labour Relations Act of South Africa, NSL rules, SAFA and FIFA statutes. The time for a free for all is over. We have to do things differently, and as SAFPU, we will be equal to the task. The CBA requires of SAFPU to properly inform and educate professional footballers as to the terms of the CBA and the SPC as well as the NSL rules specifically and football rules generally and in particular as to discipline under the football rules. We will be putting mechanisms in place to educate and empower the professional players so that they become contributors and active participants in their fate. We will remain strong as long as our members remain strong.

The CBA is in the best interest of all parties. We are entering a modern and professional era of football and the CBA assist in setting out the guidelines for all parties in order to achieve the goals, needs and interests to make football in South Africa, competitive and the best in Africa and the World. The CBA is concluded in the best interest of South African Football and football in general. The CBA is not only in the interest of SAFPU members, however also in the interest of all football players in South Africa. Therefore it is important for those football players who are not at present members of SAFPU, to become members, in order to ensure that all are benefiting with the improve employment conditions. Numbers are powerful and all support is necessary to optimize SAFPU’S position when entering into future negotiations.

The time for fighting is over, now is the time to serve football and footballers for the benefit of generations to come. Whilst we will continue to raise the bar and demand more and legitimate benefits for our members in the NSL, we will make sure that we meet our obligations as SAFPU. With rights come responsibilities. As SAFPU we have patiently fought for the past 15 years since our establishment in 1997. It has been a long journey, and we will not fail our members. Our responsibility has been and will always remain about meeting the needs and interests of the players.

It is worth noting that the parties to the CBA agreed on some fundamental issues. One such is that all players and clubs must conclude the current standard player’s contract (“SPC”) when entering into an employment relationship and which contract with all annexures, must be filed at the PSL and a copy be handed to the player. It is important that contractual stability is achieved and that all role players in South African football comply with the agreement concluded between FIFA and FIFPRO internationally, which prescribe minimum standards when entering into any employment contract.

When contractual stability is achieved, there will be lesser disputes. However, this is the beginning of a process and by educating all parties about its rights and obligations in terms of the contract, will result in lesser unlawful breaches of the contract. A new SPC will be negotiated and agreed within the next few months, in order to ensure it is in line with the South African Labour Relationships Act and minimum basic conditions as prescribed by FIFA.

The parties to the CBA also agreed to negotiate and agree within a period of 12 months on, amongst other things,  Injury benefit and Insurances;  Medical Aid benefit;  Retirement benefit; Payment mechanisms; Commercial payment ,Minimum wages, Image and commercial rights. It is imperative to note that the CBA is a working document and the success of this historical document concluded will depend on the parties continuing building on the working relationship established over the years and ensure that everyone are educated of its rights and obligations.

Thulaganyo Gaoshubelwe, General Secretary of SAFPU and Board member of FIFPro Division Africa.