Collective Bargaining Agreement for the NPFL?

In a recent press release, the National Association of Nigeria Professional Footballers (NANPF) revealed that it had sought the intervention of the Ministry of Labour and Employment in order to pressure the League Management Company (LMC) into signing a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) proposed by NANPF.

The LMC is the company that administers the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) – the top flight football league in the country. Being a players’ union, NANPF assumes the role of seeking to protect the welfare and interests of football players in Nigeria.

The proposal by NANPF for a collective bargaining agreement is a significant development in professional football in Nigeria, so we will take a look at what a collective bargaining agreement is, as well as the issues surrounding this proposed CBA.

What is a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)?

A collective bargaining agreement is a form of contract or pact reached between an employer and the employees’ union, which establishes minimum standards that regulate the relationship between the employer and each employee.

It is the outcome of negotiations between the employees’ union and the employer, covering issues relating to the terms and conditions of employment such as minimum wage, hours of work, discipline and grievance procedures.

Does CBA Operate in Football?

A professional footballer is an employee and is legally entitled to the same general rights as an employee in other professions. Quite like in other professions, it is possible for a football players’ union to enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the employers or league owners.

The Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States of America and the Premier Soccer League (PSL) in South Africa are two examples of football leagues where a CBA exists between the league and the players’ union.

Is There Need for a CBA in Nigeria?

There are two reasons why there is presently no need for a collective bargaining agreement in Nigeria.

Firstly, the professional football league in Nigeria operates the European model – where players are contracted to (and are employees of) the individual clubs, which are separate and independent entities from the league body. This is unlike the United States model -which the MLS operates – where the players enter into contract directly with (and are employees of) the league. In practical terms, a CBA is typically between the employer and the employees’ union; thus, it could be difficult to implement a CBA reached with the regulators rather than the employers (the clubs).

The second reason takes care of the argument that a collective bargaining agreement operates in South Africa’s PSL, which also operates the European model. The reason here is that the issues covered by the CBA in the PSL are already sufficiently dealt with by the provisions contained in the Framework and Rules of the Nigeria Professional Football League.  The issues of minimum wage, standard player contract, discipline, grievance procedures are already contained in the League Rules and its Standard Player Contract. Hence, it remains to be scene what impact (or efficacy) the proposed CBA will have on the welfare of players.

The challenges of player welfare in Nigeria are not for lack of provisions or a framework. The challenges are due to the absence of a functional dispute resolution mechanism and institution to ensure compliance with the regulatory provisions governing the transfer, status and employment conditions of players. For a number of years, for instance, the Players’ Status Committee and the Arbitration Tribunal of the Nigeria Football Federation have been frozen, leaving players with no football-specific forum to seek redress for their contractual and other grievances.

The “Statutory Funding” Issue

It has been reported that NANPF has made demands from LMC for payment of what it described as “statutory funding”, based on negotiations and promises pertaining to the signing of a collective bargaining agreement. This connotes an obligation on the LMC to share a percentage of the league revenue with the players’ union.

It really is hard to see how the players’ union can lay claim to a share of the league’s revenue. From the financial projection of running a top-flight club, as published by the league, the revenue accruing to participating clubs from league revenue falls short of 25% of the average running cost of a club. Hence, with the struggle to attract sponsorship and revenue for the league and its clubs, one wonders about NANPF’s claim to a share of the revenue of the league.

More so, basic research shows that there is no obligation for a league to share its revenue, or revenue accruing to participating clubs, with the players’ union. Player unions in other countries are mainly funded by registration fees, membership dues and sponsorships.

Conclusion

While it is good to see increased awareness towards the protection of the rights and welfare of players in Nigeria, it appears that there is not much for NANPF to gain from pursuing a collective bargaining agreement with the LMC. Rather, there are more pressing issues such as the implementation of an efficient dispute resolution mechanism to resolve the many pending disputes between players and clubs.

In addition, NANPF has a lot to do first, in terms of strengthening its representative capacity, organizational structure and internal procedures, so as to legitimize itself in the eyes of the players and invariably grow its membership and strength.

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