Two of the most popular codes in Australian sport have been facing issues that are all too familiar to HR practitioners.
Cricket and industrial relations
As Greg Jericho recently noted, in an op-ed at The Guardian, one of the most visible industrial disputes in Australia is currently occurring in Australian sport, between Cricket Australia (CA) and its players.
He makes the case that the players actions are “a wonderful advertisement for joining a union.” And the current stand-off casts light on the uncertain relationship between unions and HR as union participation continues to dwindle and human resources professionals are required to pick up the slack.
The contract dispute between the cricketers’ union, the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA), and Cricket Australia is quite complex. It involves players pushing back against attempts by Cricket Australia to negotiate separate contracts and to change the way in which players below the top tier are paid – from one which is tied directly to CA’s revenue to one that is unlinked. The fight is messy, and public. CA is claiming they are doing what is necessary to invest in grassroots cricket, while the ACA is questioning why this investment needs to come from the revenue-sharing arrangement.
But from a wider perspective, does good HR make unions redundant? It’s a question we asked in a recent article about the decline of unions in Australia. Perhaps it’s a question that needs to start being framed against the backdrop of recent cases that show the untenable position HR is placed in when they are tasked with representing both the organisation and the employee in disputes. When HR’s allegiance is expected to be to the company rather than top management, they are placed in a position where, as an AHRI member has commented, they are in “a lose-lose situation.” The needs and wants of the company and those of employees will inevitably find points of tension. And it’s fair to say that some will never be solvable even when HR has the ability to foster good relationships between management and employees, and address employee concerns.
The AFL, sexual harassment, and brand management
The AFL has had two sex-related scandals in the past month. The first was the resignation of two senior executives for inappropriate relationships with two younger women who work in the AFL industry. The second is the revelation that at league headquarters a “top 10 list” of female staff members was drawn up by several male employees.
In the former case, while some details remain hazy, we know that the relationships were consensual, extramarital and not disclosed to the organisation. From an HR perspective, there seems to be no conflict of interest because neither employees were direct managers of the women involved.
The media response to this has been ‘live and let live’, questioning why the AFL felt the need to force the executives’ resignations.
It’s been argued that forcing them out was a breach of basic liberties and represents a patronising attitude towards the women involved. Some have gotten the impression that this was more about “brand management” than anything else. The common sentiment has been that extramarital affairs should not be policed by employers.
Writing for HRM, employment lawyers for Clayton Utz, Abraham Ash and Laura Jacobs, advise that “while it is near impossible and inadvisable for employers to enforce a strict ‘no relationship’ policy, employers can implement ‘disclosure’ and ‘conflict of interest’ policies that oblige employees to promptly disclose their relationship. This allows appropriate steps to be taken to ensure that no potential conflict of interest arises from the relationship.”
All organisations are vulnerable to public perceptions, and sport is no different. HR in particular is concerned with employment branding – the perception of the company held by potential employees, which can have a big impact on recruitment.
How bad has it been for the AFL? The New Daily has a list of the 22 newsworthy scandals that have hit the AFL since last August, which doesn’t include the group of employees who created and shared the “top 10 list”.
Kate Jenkins, the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, is currently reviewing the league’s respect and responsibility policy – which might have been breached by the men – and has defended the AFL.
“I think the AFL is on a journey for change,” she told ABC Grandstand’s The Sunday Session. “I’m not going to comment on this scenario … but I think it has been confusing for employers to know when does the personal become business and that’s the challenge. But … I think we can get some better clarity on it.”
It’s an interesting question. When do you think the personal becomes business? Let us know your thoughts.