Cost-cutting gives umps the hump
Umpires remain determined that their pay increases should prove proportionate to the players. Photo: Getty Images
THE prospect of trialling full-time umpires could fall victim to the AFL's savage cost-cutting campaign with the game's officiators also yet to reach a new pay deal with head office a full year after their last collective-bargaining agreement expired.
AFL umpires, owed thousands in back pay, have been frustrated by the failure to finalise terms almost two years after negotiations began for a new five-year agreement. The deal was to be in line with the AFL players' agreement last December.
The last delay was of the umpires choosing with the AFL Umpires Association putting off talks for one month to ensure its members were not distracted during the finals campaign by any potential stand-off.
Facing significant physical and mental demands given the increasing pace of the game and determined that their crucial part in the game is acknowledged as the competition grows, the umpires remain determined that their pay increases should prove proportionate to the players.
The two parties returned to the negotiating table three days ago with the umpires still confident of an estimated 22 per cent pay rise over the five-year term backdated from the start of the 2012 season.
The Age understands the AFL Umpires Association, which replaced its previous boss Bill Deller with new chief executive Peter Howe last November, has offered some cost-cutting solutions of its own to get the deal done.
Those measures include re-balancing the umpires' pay structure by significantly increasing their annual base payments but holding match payments in a bid to save the AFL significant injury payments.
The umpires have also proposed a move to slash travel costs by fielding local boundary and goal umpires in
their home cities. During the season it was revealed the AFL had embarked on a $5 million annual cost-cutting campaign.
AFL football operations boss Adrian Anderson, who is leading the negotiations for the league, said it would be wrong to construe the lengthy delay as insulting to the umpires - key stakeholders in the game but one key group whose numbers have not increased in line with others in the football industry.
''The broadcast rights were completed late,'' said Anderson, ''and the agreement with the players was late and then we had the five-year distributions to the clubs. Umpires have traditionally been the last group that we deal with.''
While the umpires believe the trialling of full-time officiators will be shelved Anderson said: ''Not necessarily. We haven't abandoned it altogether and I wouldn't count it out just yet.''
Said Howe: ''The negotiations are continuing and we're hopeful they'll be completed by the end of October.''
The best AFL field umpires earned more than $100,000 this year even before back payments. All umpires who officiate more than 10 senior games also receive bonuses.
This season the AFL's 32 field umpires, who received only the 3.1 per cent CPI rise, earned $56,000 in base payments and $1300 a match. Field umpires in the first two weeks of the finals were paid a further $7000 for those games.
Brett Rosebury, Matt Stevic, Simon Meredith and Mat Nicholls each earned about $17,000 for umpiring the 2012 grand final.
The AFL umpiring budget for 2012 - the game also employs 42 boundary and 27 goal umpires - was about $9 million.