January 23rd, 2021

British union says it is close to settlement over unpaid Toronto Wolfpack wages


By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press on January 11, 2021.

Toronto Wolfpack captain Josh McCrone raises the Betfred Championship Trophy alongside teammates after defeating the Featherstone Rovers in the Million Pound Game in Betfred Championship rugby league action in Toronto on October 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

The British union representing former Toronto Wolfpack players says it is close to a settlement in excess of $1 million with majority owner David Argyle over unpaid wages.

Players and staff on the failed transatlantic rugby league team have not been paid since June 10.

Peter Davies, a senior organizer for the GMB union, says Argyle has submitted a formal offer that “in principal” is acceptable to the players.

“We’ve had verbal offers, verbal promises (before) to settle the current wage bill before the club folds,” he said Monday from England. “But this time we’ve had it in writing from the owner and we’ve started writing legal documents to sign it off.”

“The good news is that there’s a substantial offer on the table,” he added. “It’s worth something like $1 million so that will clear the backlog.”

The union and Argyle are scheduled to hold a virtual meeting on the matter Tuesday.

The Wolfpack stood down July 20, saying it could not afford to play out the remainder of the pandemic-interrupted season. A subsequent bid for reinstatement to the Super League for 2021 under new ownership was voted down on Nov. 2.

In December, Leigh Centurions were chosen to replace Toronto as the 12th team in Super League.

If the deal under negotiation is not completed, Davies said the union will take legal action on both sides of the Atlantic “to recover those wages because it is a clear breach of contract.”

The back pay settlement only covers the reduced salaries due to the pandemic that the players agreed to during the 2020 season. Davies says the Wolfpack players, like their compatriots on other Super League teams, agreed to wage cuts from 30 to 50 percent to get through the season.

Davies, whose union helped negotiate those initial concessions, says players will likely end up getting about 45 per cent of their full salary.

“What he’s offering is probably realistically what we would get were we to take this to the court system in the U.K.” said Davies.

Separate settlement offer have been made for former All Black Sonny Bill Williams and Australian–born Samoan international Ricky Leutele, who were designated as Toronto’s two marquee players. Under Super League rules, only 150,000 pounds ($259,100) of a marquee player’s salary counts against a team’s salary cap.

The deal also covers staff who were members of the union in the United Kingdom but does not include Canadian-based personnel. Like he did for the players, Argyle has guaranteed those staff will get what’s due.

Davies says he believes the amount in question there is some $250,000.

Davies said staff on this side of the Atlantic are pursuing the appropriate employment channels to make sure that happens.

“Hopefully if David Argyle, the owner, is a man of his word, we should be close to a settlement within a couple of weeks for both Canadian and U.K. staff and players,” said Davies.

It has not been an easy deal to make, given the pandemic and the fact the Wolfpack are a Canadian-owned team playing in Britain.

“It’s been a lot of hard work. And it’s been a bit of a nightmare, to be fair, because we are looking at two lots of legislation,” said Davies, whose union is the third-largest in Britain.

Argyle, a Toronto-based Australian entrepreneur who specializes in mining and natural resources in emerging markets, has said the original ownership group poured $30 million into the franchise.

Davies says the proposed settlement deal only covers the 2020 season given the Wolfpack is expected to fold and most former Toronto players have since found new clubs.

The union’s preferred position had been to have the Wolfpack return to Super League, which would have allowed Toronto players with long-term contracts to see them out.

The Wolfpack’s financial problems were exacerbated by Super League’s refusal to share TV revenue with the North American club.

“It is a miracle that Toronto were able to do what they did without having access to the income that the rest of the clubs were getting,” Davies said. “They were still being shown in TV, they were still a part of the game and they were one of the 12 clubs.

“It is grossly unfair that they didn’t get access to that TV money. And if they had got access to those TV rights and money, or were even promised it in 2021, we could have saved the club. And it’s a crying shame. It’s a shame for rugby. For me it’s a stain on the game. And Toronto Wolfpack should have been supported in their bid to stay in rugby league in the U.K.”

The union official confirmed that some players have endured financial hardships since the paycheques stopped.

“It seems to be an urban myth that because they’ve played their rugby in Super League, that these are well-off people. They’re not,” said Davies. “They have a small window to earn. There are very few of us that can go two, three months without wages.”

Overseas players from Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere were hit particularly hard because the club had been paying for their accommodations and transport. And because of their citizenship and the Wolfpack being registered in Canada, they were unable to befit from British government help.

“They found themselves with no income whatsoever, facing eviction from their houses.”

Davie said the union, the Rugby Football League and the Rugby League Cares charity helped raise in excess of 14,000 pounds ($24,200) to get one player’s family home to Australia.

The Toronto franchise began life in the third-tier League 1 in 2017, winning promotion to the second-tier Championship and then the elite Super League.

Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 11, 2021

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