The Compensation List ruling – Predicament or Methodical?

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The dispute over the compensation list, affecting players under the age of 23 related to changing clubs, has finally resolved. The National Court rejected the  ‘FutbolistasON’ union’s request of declaring the nullity of the training compensation list for the 2019/20 season that includes the collective agreement of players under the age of 23 years, although “it must be limited to the signing subjects” of the same.

The National Court held that the agreement had not been published in the BOE and therefore does not meet the validity requirements of Article 90 of the Workers’ Statute. The resolution dismissed the central claim of FutbolistasON to revoke the list, as stated in Article 20 of the First Collective Agreement of Female Footballers of Spain. The court interpreted that “it was presented to the Joint Commission on time and that the action, being of a nature collective, prevents entering to review the unique circumstances regarding each of the players.”

However, this list is invalid for the three teams who are not part of the ACFF (Association of Women’s Football Clubs), that are FC Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid, and Athletic. It includes the Players who do not belong to any of the unions that signed the agreement until it publishes in BOE.

DETAILS ON THE CONTROVERSY
What is the compensation list, and how it affects U-23 players?

On the 18th of February 2020, after much negotiation and protest of the female footballers in the Spanish league, the trade unions (Futbolistas On and AFE) and the Club’s association (ACFF) reached an agreement and signed the first Collective Agreement of Female footballers.

It seemed like an initiative to improve the working conditions and the rights of footballers in the league. Instead, it created more chaos. The U-23 players got trapped in their clubs by the compensation list, even after their contract expired.

What is the compensation list?

The Collective agreement stated in Article 20 establishes that, after the expiration of a contract, if footballer signs with another club, the latter must pay the origin club a compensation for her “training rights.”

According to the article, the origin club establishes the amount of compensation, and they are free to decide how much one gains.

So, here is the question. What happens if no club is willing to pay the given clause or if there are no external offers? In that case, the origin club must renovate their contract for another year, and increase their salary by 7% of the total amount of money they were asking for that player. And, if another club is interested and is willing to pay the respective clause, the player receives 15% of the total amount her new club will pay to her current club.

When can a club ask for this compensation?

There are two main scenarios in which the origin club can ask for such compensation:

  • If the player is younger than 23 years old.
  • If the footballer is signing her first professional contract.

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Why the conflict?

While the clause intends to protect small clubs from being ‘plundered’ by bigger teams, in practice, both Article 20 and the list are detrimental to U-23 players. The issue is that the article does not establish a proper way of calculating how much a club can ask for a player; neither does it mention about proportion. It means it all depends on the good faith of their club to be fair in the amounts.

It was a huge miss from the trade unions, a mistake recognized by Futbolistas On but not AFE, who has sided with the clubs in this conflict.

In March 2020, the clubs of Primera Iberdrola established the amounts they should be asking for in terms of “training rights” for some of their U-23 players. The first problem arose when they sent the list on the 2nd of March when the deadline was on the 1st of March. Besides, the Parity Commission did not meet until the 4th of March, which is beyond the given period. ‘Futbolistas On’ denounced this fact and claimed the Compensation List was void due to a form defect. In this aspect, the National Court decided against it because all the clubs need to notify the ACFF, and the latter must inform the players and the Parity Commission. Since all the clubs reported the ACFF by the 1st of March, they complied with their side of the deal.

Both players and ‘Futbolistas On’ argue – rightly so – that the amounts the clubs are asking for are abusive.

As a way of illustration, Levante asked 500,000€ for Ona Batlle, and Eva Navarro and Athletic asked for 250,000€ for Damaris Egurrola and Maite Oroz. Other clubs such as Logroño or Espanyol were more “modest” in their pretensions, but taking into account that most signings in female football are done at almost zero cost, asking for 10,000€ for a U-23 player could be considered abusive to some extent. Besides, most of these players do not reach 40,000€ of salary per year, and some of them arrived at Levante just two years before. In this regard, the judge establishes that Article 20 is evident in this aspect: the club can ask as much as they want. However, it won’t overlook if the amount seems abusive and not proportional. Still, the Audiencia Nacional does not have competence in this aspect, as the issue is of an “individual matter,” not a collective matter, and it should be judged on a case-by-case basis. Hence, since the article is definite, and the court has no competence, the list stands valid.

The Compensation list ruling helps Damaris make a move outside her club without paying any figures

Why the confusion about the ruling?

The judge recognises that until the Collective agreement is published in the BOE, it is only valid for those who signed it: the clubs in the ACFF and the players represented by Futbolistas On and AFE. Hence, it does not apply to FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Athletic de Bilbao. It means that they do not have to pay the clauses (yet) but also that the agreement does not protect their players. Once the agreement is published in the BOE, then it affects everyone, not only the ones who signed it. Thus, players will be protected, and the clubs will have to pay the fee retrospectively.

Why is it not published?

The collective agreement was considered a great accomplishment for the players’ rights, but it is not clear if it’s applied accordingly as the minimum salary is meagre, and other points are legally doubtful. For these reasons, UGT (one of the significant trades unions in Spain) impugned the collective agreement. Until they resolve the question, the agreement cannot be published in the BOE.

What does it mean for the U-23 La Masia players and other players who were on the list and renovated their contract?

Claudia Pina, Carla Armengol, Candela Andújar, Laia Codina, and Gemma Font recently renewed their contract with Barcelona. Under the agreement, most of them had the right to a 7% increase in their salaries. And according to this ruling, Barcelona is not obligated to raise their wages. Also, the players of the three non-signing clubs are not protected.

What does this mean for the future of La Masia?

First, Barça B players are not part of the Primera Iberdrola unless they enter the dynamic of the first team. When they do, they should be protected by the collective agreement once it is published. Until they are 23 years or sign their first professional contract, Barça can establish a compensation they want to receive in case the player leaves the Club. Few of such cases such are Ona Batlle, who left for Madrid CFF, Laia Aleixandri, who left for Atletico de Madrid, or Berta Pujadas, who left for Espanyol.

Nonetheless, it seems that Barcelona is engaging in a renewal + loan formula to keep track of their U-23 stars, so at least they should be able to keep them close to the club and not make the clause effective.

What does this mean for the league?

So far, the clubs are free to ask for whatever fee they want. If the compensation list is not negotiable, and not dealt in a fair and homogeneous way in establishing the figures, it could cause a colossal loss for female football in Spain.

Players younger than 23 years old will not be protected from abusive clauses, and they would be forced to stay in the Club or migrate to another league as the list only applies to Spanish clubs. Cases such as Ona Batlle could be repeated, and the league would lose its young talents. Compensation rights are necessary to protect small clubs from big clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico, who until now can sign their young promises without having to pay them compensation. However, it also protects clubs with huge young teams such as Barcelona, who can block their young stars from leaving to their rival teams or at least go on loans such as they did with Pina or Armengol.

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What does this mean for the players?

So far, some players may be benefitted from the court rule, as they can leave for free – at least for now. Nonetheless, the court ruling is a massive setback on long-term perspectives for other players. Firstly, because the clubs are free to ask for whatever they want and, secondly, some of them remain unprotected because their club did not sign the agreement.

As Amanda Gutierrez exposes in her article, the supposed victory that ‘Futbolistas On’ claims to have accomplished is not real. The players of the three non-signing teams are not protected, and they will eventually have to pay when the Collective Agreement is published in the BOE. The best option, as Amanda article suggests, is that for the affected players to take the ordinary route of social jurisdiction individually, with legal representation, to talk about the low proportionality that was occurring in their situation, which, as we know, does not affect all. Claiming an abuse of rights by the club of origin, and requesting a judgment declaring the amount as abusive, forcing the Club to modify it, perhaps would have been the best solution.

What is clear is that the players are still unprotected and that even with the Collective Agreement, they feel that they are being fooled.

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