Scheduled pay meetings between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association have broken down, with the board claiming it is withdrawing from talks in order to prevent the players from being further embroiled.
The two parties have been increasingly at odds over the past week, culminating in a bitter exchange over work conditions for female players that has led to CA being investigated by the FairWork Ombudsman.
On Sunday emails between the ACA chief executive Alistair Nicholson and CA were leaked, with the strong suggestion that some clauses in women's contracts were not altered because the ACA did not respond to CA. However the players association countered on Monday with claims to the contrary.
"Cricket Australia is attempting to blame others for their own contracts," Nicholson said. "Cricket Australia should stop blame-shifting and focus on resolving the issues in a constructive way. The suggestion that pregnancy guidelines were not issued because the ACA allegedly failed to communicate with CA is wrong on two counts. Firstly, we did communicate with CA and secondly the ACA does not currently have a right to veto female CA contracts or guidelines. To suggest so is just plain wrong.
"As we have already stated publicly, the ACA was consulted regarding the pregnancy guidelines 18 months ago and expressed our concerns, as the published emails also show. The real reason the matter was not progressed to a satisfactory conclusion is because CA walked away from negotiations for a collective agreement with female cricketers. This meant the issue had to again be raised in our submission for a new MOU provided to CA five weeks ago.
"Our submission highlights many of the great advances for female cricketers, for which we commend CA. It also rightly raises outstanding issues which must be addressed and we will continue to advocate for their satisfactory resolution in the current MOU negotiation."
Soon after, CA released a statement declaring it would not be attending meetings scheduled for this week. "Cricket Australia has determined that further discussions on the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Australian Cricketers' Association (ACA) should not be held this week, as intended," the statement said.
Cricket Australia is committed to a negotiation that is conducted in good faith between the two parties, but will not take part in a process which seeks to draw its players into a public dispute. Players deserve the opportunity to focus on the game, rather than being distracted by a negotiation that should be conducted in a professional and confidential manner."
Nicholson said the ACA was "extremely disappointed" at the breakdown of talks. "We are extremely disappointed Cricket Australia have walked away from the table, particularly so early in proceedings," he said. "There are a number of very important issues for discussion, and these are best resolved at the bargaining table.
"In our submission we highlight both the successes of Cricket Australia and also the need to have important and difficult conversations which involve critical issues for our members. We reject the implication of bad faith. We urge CA to return to the negotiating table for the benefit of the game."
In an earlier submission sent to all contracted players, CA's team performance chief Pat Howard had warned against the players speaking publicly on MOU issues.
"We will not debate this through the media -- I do not want players becoming the meat in the sandwich as we saw at the ODI press conference last week," Howard said. "This is a discussion about professional contracts that will not be helped by the media's involvement. They want us to be divided, to turn this into a 'bitter dispute'. That will only damage cricket and none of us wants that."
Howard was referring to a question asked of the captain Steven Smith and his deputy David Warner following the ODI series between Australia and New Zealand. That week the CA board had invited Smith, Warner and the coach Darren Lehmann to dinner with directors and management, at which CA's views were expressed.
"For us it was a good opportunity to meet the board and have a nice dinner with them and a good chat," Smith had said of the dinner. "They took our points of view, we listened to them and it was nice to see everyone on the same page going forward and trying to get the best for our game moving forward."
CA's submission to the players stated that the board no longer thinks all players should be eligible for a fixed percentage of Australian cricket revenue, preferring only to extend that right to the top 20 CA contracted players. It stated that the sustainability of domestic player wages was a problem.
"International men are amongst the highest-paid sportsmen in Australia and CA believes this should remain the case in the future," CA argued in its submission. "CA believes the players who contribute to financial returns should continue to share in those financial returns. CA believes retainers for international men should increase significantly compared to the retainers that were agreed on in the current MOU.
"CA believes that international men continue to share in financial returns. International men contribute significantly to generating financial returns that are used to grow the game and should be rewarded accordingly.
"State men's payments are projected to be over 2.5 times the revenue generated by state men's cricket in 2016/17. While state men's cricket does not have the objective of generating financial returns, ongoing growth in player payments relative to the revenue generated by state men's cricket is an issue of sustainability."
More broadly, CA alleged that maintaining the revenue sharing model would compromise efforts to better resource grass roots competitions and facilities. The board recently conducted an audit of all facilities around the country, and the chief executive James Sutherland has stated that finding adequate grounds was a problem for the expansion of the women's game in particular. The CA chairman David Peever, a noted opponent of union involvement in the workplace during his time as managing director of the mining giant Rio Tinto's Australian operations, has also pointed to further grass roots investment as key to his tenure.
It is clear that CA would prefer to deal with the players directly, and the submission went as far as stating that the board no longer wished to provide an annual grant to the ACA, as has been the case since basics of the current pay model were thrashed out in 1997-98. "Given that Cricket Australia is an employer of the players and the Australian Cricketers Association is the collective bargaining agent for the players," the submission stated, "we question the appropriateness of CA directly funding the ACA."