‘Unnecessarily provocative’: Dons backpedal after player pay email

Essendon have been forced to backpedal after upsetting their players with an email on Friday night telling them the club was planning to withhold nine per cent of their wages this month.

The players were told by email at 8pm on Friday of the club's plan to withhold money, potentially in breach of AFL rules and player contracts, due to the AFL's cuts to the salary cap for next year.

Essendon’s players were sent an email on Friday night saying nine per cent of their wages would be withheld in November.Credit:Getty Images

Senior players were angry at the move, made without discussing it with them first, and immediately contacted their managers and the AFL Players Association.

The players' union contacted the club on Saturday for clarity over the emails and warned them about the risk of breaches if they pursued the plan to withhold money.

The email, from chief executive Xavier Campbell and which The Age has seen, said the club would meet with players to discuss the plan for how to apply the AFL cuts to the salary cap but as a starting position they would withhold nine per cent of player salaries in the November pay period.

A subsequent email on Friday night said this withheld nine per cent in November was "a holding pattern while we work out a working normal" in discussions with the players.

By Sunday morning, the club had agreed with the players' union that they would not proceed with withholding money and would meet with senior players on Monday morning.

"We didn't get the communication right and we own that. Our intention was to create a 'holding position' for the next fortnight to allow us the time to meet properly with the playing group," Campbell told The Age.

"I'm disappointed that we didn't consult properly with the players prior, and that is our fault. But we will do this over the next few days."

The club admits now it should have spoken with the players before raising the idea of withholding the money, not withholding the money and then starting talks.

Under the AFL agreement with the AFLPA, players will incur varying degrees of cuts next year.

Players who will be in the final year of contracts in 2021 who were signed well before the COVID-19 impact became apparent – in Essendon's case a player such as Zach Merrett – can only have a mandated 3.5 per cent cut to their salaries next year.

Other players who have contracts running into 2022 and beyond – players at Essendon such as captain Dyson Heppell and Dylan Shiel – can have their wages cut by 8.5 per cent next year with a minimum five per cent that can be recouped in 2022 or later years.

Thus five per cent of the player's contract is "back-ended" and recovered in years when the salary cap is expected, or hoped, to return to at least pre-COVID-19 levels or perhaps higher to account for the back-ended player contracts.

"For a club that has just gone through a review and found problems in their footy department and distrust from their players this was unnecessarily provocative. Put it this way, it hasn't improved relations with their players," one senior industry source said.

Other clubs have taken different approaches to handling the cuts to the cap.

For instance West Coast, who always pay to the maximum of the salary cap, drew their players together to discuss how they could work out an answer to getting under the reduced cap.

They reached an agreement with their players to take a higher than the AFL mandated minimum 3.5 per cent. Sources said the Eagles players had agreed cuts closer to an average seven per cent.

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