West Indies cricket in crisis July 18, 2005

Cricket and industrial relations

William Lucie-Smith
William Lucie-Smith wonders how the West Indies board and the players' union managed to find a solution that suited no one



Lara is one of the prominent absentees in Sri Lanka © Getty Images

The present impasse between WICB and WIPA has resulted in a second-string team being recruited, principally from the 'A' team in Sri Lanka, to play on the tour of Sri Lanka. This must be a disastrous situation for the Sri Lanka board, for the spectators, for the West Indian public, for the players, for the WICB and for WICB's sponsor Digicel. If it is such a lose-lose situation, how on Earth did it happen and how can it be avoided in future?

WIPA is to all intents and purposes a trade union in its negotiations. I recently was able to interview Dinanath Ramnarine, the President of WIPA on the TV6 Morning Edition. It seemed clear to me that Mr. Ramnarine was genuinely bemused by the outcome of negotiations. Indeed he seemed to believe that they were near to agreement when he was informed that an alternative team had been picked. In reality, WIPA is not a trade union but merely an adviser to the individual players. This means that there is no jurisdiction for the Industrial Court, or the Industrial Relations Act.

While Ramnarine may claim WICB acted in 'bad faith' by signing up other players while still in discussion with WIPA, WICB may equally claim that they considered this the only alternative to succumbing to impossible demands.

The fact that at least 14 players signed up (only three of whom were in the original squad) simply demonstrates that the players are not bound by WIPA's advice and a number were willing to accept WICB's terms. WIPA's contention that money was not the problem is in direct contradiction to WICB's chief executive Roger Brathwaite who believed that money was the key problem. I think they are both sincere in their beliefs which makes the whole fiasco an even bigger comedy of errors.

In my former life as a receiver, I have had numerous dealings with unions in very difficult circumstances but never had to go to court or lost a days work through strike or lockout. To me, the most important ingredient in obtaining a negotiated settlement is transparency and mutual trust that nobody is trying to take advantage. These are the key ingredients that are totally missing between WIPA and WICB.

The WICB seems to maintain a pathological secrecy about its financial condition releasing little tidbits when it seems to be in its interest. Ramnarine makes a very good point when he says that the WICB offering a percentage of the Digicel sponsorship when so many different numbers have been reported (by WICB itself) as the value of that sponsorship, and lack of information makes it difficult for WIPA to agree.

The misinformation and disinformation that is circulated makes it impossible for any fair-minded commentator to take sides in the issue. My instinct in any industrial relations failure however is to blame management because they are after all employed to manage the situation. It does occasionally happen that employers meet intransigent and irrational unions and employees but by and large that happens in circumstances where there is a long history of distrust (as in the present circumstances). That WICB seem satisfied with taking a 'B' team to Sri Lanka as a solution appears bizarre.

Also on the Morning Edition at the same time as Mr. Ramnarine was Dudnath Ramkissoon, first vice president on the Trinidad Board and Chairman of the Trinidad selectors. Mr. Ramkissoon made an obvious sensible suggestion. Why didn't both parties agree to send the full team leaving the outstanding issues for continued negotiation or arbitration? The answer to this question would be very revealing but it appears the parties did not consider what seems obvious to the rest of us.

Ken Gordon appears, as I write this column, to be the new president-designate of WICB. Mr Gordon, former CEO of this newspaper, is a well-respected and known as a straight-arrow kind of person. I wish him well in resolving this nonsense and hope he sees the need for a great deal more transparency in WICB affairs.

WICB is a non-profit 'trust' for the West Indies public and should give a full accounting of its stewardship by publishing its annual report complete with financial statements and a management discussion and analysis of the operations for the year. Once all this information is in the public domain it will surely be easier to judge the financial condition and where the money comes from and goes.

The public most certainly agree that the players do not deserve a pay rise but they do deserve to be treated with respect and given some form of employment security (retainer contracts) and appropriate rewards for performance. A priority must be employment, tournament sponsorship and marketing of the sport (not a $275 million new facility as that is not the problem). Good luck to Ken Gordon.

Comments