Equality has come for the women’s sevens, with the announcement of a new collective bargaining agreement on Wednesday.
Rugby Australia and the Rugby Union Players’ Association announced the new deal, that will only run until 2020 when the current broadcast deal ends.
This current deal comes some 14 years after the last agreement was finalised, back in 2004, with that rolling over automatically for a number of years.
Negotiations on the deal began in October 2017, with both sides keen to reach an agreement as quickly as possible after a torrid year for Australian rugby.
The Super Rugby salary cap will increase from $5 million to $5.5 million under the new agreement, but it’s unclear how that will function in 2018, particularly with the influx of players to the Rebels after the axing of the Force.
Super Rugby players will also benefit from extra annual leave.
Where other sports were locked in ugly standoffs over new pay deals in the past year, rugby has retained its player share revenue at 29 per cent, comparable to that of the AFL and NRL, who negotiated deals in 2017.
The agreement also guarantees an NRC presence in Western Australia until the end of the broadcast deal.
The length of this new deal is telling, with the next broadcast agreement set to come under entirely different circumstances, with the possibility of a Super Rugby overhaul and the development of Andrew Forrest’s Indo Pacific Rugby Championship also being thrown in the mix.
Outgoing Rugby Australia CEO Bill Pulver, for whom this will likely be his last major legacy on the game, said it would be a boost for rugby.
“I want to thank RUPA CEO Ross Xenos and his team for what has been a tough but fair negotiation, which has provided an outcome that ultimately sets our game on a strong footing heading into the final three years of our current broadcast agreement,” he said.
“While we continue to invest heavily in the professional game, Rugby Australia and RUPA have worked together to ensure that the game can address the issue of funding at the community level.
“We have struck a balance that will allow greater investment in the community game, while ensuring that our High Performance programs are supported to deliver the on-field success that Rugby fans demand and deserve.
RUPA President Dean Mumm said the agreement was critical in a difficult environment.
“With the previous CBA expiring at the end of 2017, securing this Agreement has been a priority for all parties and provides the certainty and stability to put recent challenges behind us,” Mumm said.
"This agreement allows all parties to draw a line in the sand and move forward towards a more prosperous future for Australian Rugby.”
RUPA CEO Ross Xenos said players' conditions had improved under the new deal.
“This CBA ensures that every player’s core conditions of employment continue to improve with every new season, whilst prioritising performance and wellbeing through a range of initiatives which are designed to ensure that players are given every opportunity to thrive on and off the field,” Xenos said.
The most significant development from the new agreement is pay parity between women’s and men’s sevens and Super Rugby starters.
Though top level salaries still look likely to have a disparity between men’s XVs and others, the entry level salary has been mandated across the formats, as $44,500.
Women’s players will have a new Pregnancy Policy built into the agreement as well, to give them security over their careers.
Sevens co-captain Shannon Parry said that was a landmark move for the sport.
"The implementation of such a ground-breaking Pregnancy Policy is really important,” she said.
“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.
“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.”
Super Rugby squads have been enlarged to between 36 and 40 players, above the previous 35 maximum, though that still reduces the overall Super Rugby spots from 175 to 160 with the axing of the Force.
The salary cap among the clubs will go up to $5.5 million, with a 15 per cent reduction for veterans of the franchises, effectively increasing player salaries by 10 per cent.
Players will also have increased leave under the new agreement.
The Wallaroos will be part of the scope of the deal for the first time, and will be entitled to their first pay packets under the agreement.
Wallaroos players will be paid match payments for any Test they play. Previously, all players were entirely amateur, with just costs covered for tours or World Cups.