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Australia's top female cricketers set to break through six-figure salary glass ceiling

During the Boxing Day Test last week, as Australia were in the midst of thrashing the West Indies, another meeting of adversaries was taking place behind the scenes.  

On either side of the table were Pat Howard, Cricket Australia's team performance manager, and the Australian Cricketers' Association chief executive, Alastair Nicholson. At issue was a subject that has driven the two parties further apart during the past eight months than would ordinarily be the case with the natural friction that exists between employer and union. Women's pay.

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An end to the stalemate, however, might just be around the corner after the meeting in Melbourne. Howard predicts that as a result Australia's contracted female players will be fully professional by the start of next summer, and that state players will be semi-professional in the same time frame. He will not put an exact figure on the salary range that will be available to the Ashes-winning Southern Stars but if the top Australian players are on six-figure contracts for the first time it will be a landmark moment for cricket and women's sport in general in Australia.

"I'd be very surprised if that doesn't happen," Howard said on Monday when asked whether Australia's women would be fully professional by next summer. "There's lots of ways to make this work and we're just going through the finer detail of making it work but for [season] 2016/17 I expect incremental growth to get to a point where it's a pretty good outcome for them. I do think the Cricket Australia-contracted girls should be full-time players. We've got to settle on a number between the group of us. I was pleasantly surprised by the first meeting." 

Having a go: Ellyse Perry takes a swing at the launch of this season's Women's BBL.
Having a go: Ellyse Perry takes a swing at the launch of this season's Women's BBL. Photo: Brendan Esposito

Australia's centrally-contracted women's players are currently paid retainers between $50,134 and $78,034 out of a $2.26 million pool, a huge lift on where they were only three years ago when the top salaries were only just north of $20,000. State players are presently on anywhere between $10,000 and $17,000. Contracts in the Women's Big Bash League are worth between $3,000 and $10,000.

In a season in which the WBBL has launched successfully, with higher than anticipated free-to-air television ratings, those figures will rise significantly again soon. The only question is by what means.

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That is the crux of the ongoing dispute between CA and the ACA, who have campaigned for women's players to have their own collective bargaining agreement to give them the same rights as the men but against CA's desire for women's pay to be drawn from the same $71 million salary cap that male players are paid from.   

The male payment pool is, under their MOU, calculated as a percentage of overall CA revenue - it ranges between 24.5 and 27 per cent depending on performance - and has gone through the roof since Howard and former ACA chief Paul Marsh negotiated the last five-year agreement in 2012. The cash that flowed in from the World Cup drove it further up this year, as did the tens of millions in compensation CA received over the cancelling of the Champions League. 

Cricket Australia's team performance chief Pat Howard.
Making things happen: Cricket Australia's team performance chief Pat Howard. Photo: Getty Images

CA essentially want all players - men and women - covered under the same MOU and paid out of the same pool. The union, on the flipside, believes that if more players are being paid from the same pool, the percentage of revenue that flows toward it should go up so the men do not lose out.

"We've got a view that players are players and all should be part of that collective. They've got a slightly different view," Howard said. 

"But we did have a meeting during the Boxing Day Test; we had a few hours together on this actual subject and we've got another meeting in mid-January. It's a start. In the end the female players will get a positive outcome either from us or them or whatever is required."

That will be welcome news for the women caught in the middle of this standoff. Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning, two of the biggest names in women's cricket, already earn six figures from the governing body by virtue of the extra income they draw from CA marketing contracts, but should soon be joined by others.  

"Certainly as elite players in the game you want to be as professional as possible and have every opportunity to continue to develop as a player and improve your craft," Perry said. 

"I think that's certainly where the women's game is heading. It's, in a lot of aspects, already there and there are a number of players that are essentially full-time players now." 

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