NRL refs threaten round one strike if best don't get $300,000 per year

Referees are prepared to go on strike in round one next season if the NRL does not agree to a pay claim that would see the top whistleblowers earning as much as $315,000 per year.

Protracted negotiations between the NRL and the referees’ union continued at a glacial pace on Wednesday as the game’s all-important officials pushed for a 30 per cent increase in their salaries over the next four years.

Fed up ... Angry referees are threatening to go on strike if their pay dispute is no resolved.

Fed up … Angry referees are threatening to go on strike if their pay dispute is no resolved.Credit:AAP

That would see top-tier referees like Gerard Sutton and Ashley Klein have their salaries increased from $180,000 per season to more than $300,000. That would bring them in line with the average wage for a player, which is $371,000.

“They’re moving in millimetres,” frustrated Professional Rugby League Match Officials chairman Silvio Del Vecchio said of the NRL. “We continue to find the NRL extremely combative and unwilling to move in negotiations, caught up in minutia.”

The Herald understands referees are preparing to ramp up hostilities after effectively hitting the NRL with a wet lettuce leaf over the past few months, turning up late to video reviews and the like.

Blacking out the logo of sponsor youi on the front and back of referees’ shirts and a boycott of training and next year's pre-season matches have already been mooted.

But this latest impasse has left some referees considering a strike in round one next season. That would be a disaster for the NRL, which the union believes is continuing to disrespect them in negotiations.

NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has given the job of thrashing out a deal to referees’ boss Tony Archer, who many of the referees believe should be on their side — not trying to stop them for getting a fair slice of the NRL’s revenue.

The PRLMO certainly believes a more senior executive at the NRL should be handling negotiations. There’s a belief it will only take Greenberg to get involved for an agreement to be quickly reached.

Further complicating the matter is that a sprinkling of referees are not members of the union, including Sutton, the grand final and State of Origin referee who is the brother of referees manager Bernard.

Klein was the only PRLMO member on the field in the grand final between the Roosters and Storm last month. Linesmen Brett Suttor and Nick Beashel are not.

Much like last year’s dispute between the players and the NRL, this one is about money.

Member: Ashley Klein, who refereed Origin and the grand final, is paid-up with the union but not all top officials are.

Member: Ashley Klein, who refereed Origin and the grand final, is paid-up with the union but not all top officials are.Credit:AAP

ARL Commission chairman Peter Beattie two months ago trumpeted the game’s strong financial position, declaring that the game was on a track to bring in $530 million in revenue this year with a profit between $50 to 55 million.

The referees’ claim equates to a thumbnail of that: about $2 million over four years. As it stands, the NRL is not budging on its offer of an increase of 24 per cent.

Are the refs asking too much? Some will mostly certainly believe so, forgetting the sacrifices many make to take on the game’s most thankless job.

Earlier this year, leading referee Matt Cecchin revealed to the Herald how death threats and constant abuse had driven him out despite him being in his prime.

After making a critical call in the World Cup semi-final between Tonga and England in Auckland last year, he had to be escorted by New Zealand police to the airport before being picked up by Australian Federal Police when he arrived in Sydney. His house was then put on alert.

He has asked Greenberg, who has been a strong supporter of the referees in the past, to bring on a full-time sports psych for match officials.

“It’s gone too far," Cecchin said of the abuse. “How much better could we be if the environment was a little bit more positive? If a ref could go out there knowing he’s got to work hard but if he makes a bad call it won’t be the end of the world?"

What fans also don’t understand is how long and hard the road can be for referees to the NRL, taking as much as 10 years to finally crack the full-time squad.

After that, professional careers must be put on hold for years as the referee becomes a full-time employee of the NRL.

The current minimum salary for a full-time referee is $105,000. The top-tier refs make $180,000 but their roles aren’t confined to one match per week. They also include working in The Bunker, being a match-day coach or refereeing a second match if needed.

An NRL spokesman said the NRL continues to bargain in good faith with the referees.

“We have made significant progress and are confident of reaching a successful outcome,” the spokesman said.

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