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Spanish players agree on strike action

A deeper explanation of the hows, whys and whats

Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - Primera Iberdrola Espagne

Having been in talks over a collective agreement for Primera Iberdrola (the Spanish women’s first league) players for 13 months, the Asociación de Futbolistas Españoles (Association of Spanish Footballers) has announced that the players have voted in favour of going on strike.

Who?

The talks had been ongoing between the players – represented by the AFE, Futbolistas ON (a union created to oppose AFE whilst still working for Spanish players) and Unión General de Trabajadores (one of the most important trade unions in Spain). And the clubs – represented by the Asociación de Clubes de Fútbol Femenino (an union that represents all the Primera Iberdrola teams, except for Athletic Club, Barcelona and Tacón). With the Real Federación Española de Fútbol (Royal Spanish Football Federation) involved more as moderators than anything else in the discussions. The importance of the RFEF that not only do they not recognise Futbolistas ON, but as UGT are not a footballing entity, they don’t recognise the trade union either. Leaving the main players as the AFE (the players) and the ACFF (the clubs).

With 18 separate and fruitless meetings having taken place since 2018. The argument hinges on the players being regarded as part-time and not only earning below a liveable wage but not having the same assurances and protections as full time employees.

How did we get here?

Before going through the list of demands of the players, it’s vital to understand some of the history of women’s football in Spain, specifically around the league and why, only this year, it’s become professional.

One of the important distinctions regarding the RFEF is their rule over football specifically includes regulating royal decrees about the sport, as they are the Royal Spanish Football Federation. There has long been a royal decree that states no one sport can have two professional leagues running concurrently. [The specific decree reads: La denominación de las ligas profesionales deberá incluir la indicación de la modalidad deportiva de que se trate. No podrá existir más que una liga profesional por cada modalidad deportiva y sexo en el ámbito estatal.]

So, whilst La Liga exists as a professional league for the men, Primera Iberdrola (or Liga Iberdrola, Primera División, whatever you want to call it) can (or could) not exist as a professional league for the women. So when the RFEF took over control of the women’s league for this year (as it hadn’t been them before, which is where the ACFF comes into play as a specific federation set up to self-regulate the women’s clubs), they said something to the effect of, “don’t worry, we’ll sort it.”

This is where everything became muddied, as RFEF said, if you play in this league – the league that you have to be in for Champions League qualification etc.– a you will be a professional. Yet without truly clarifying things, the federation has opened the door for the ongoing disputes as there is nothing to say how long the players are to be contracted to be considered professional (Part time? Full time?) So, whilst many in the league are down on 10-15 hour contracts, there are some who could be on as little as two-hour a week contracts.

What the players want

It’s not just about wages but assurances, the main points of note in what the players want are:

  • A minimum yearly salary of €16,000 (*$17,750) for a 40-hour working week (but they’ll be willing to accept €12,000 ($13,300) for part-time 30-hours a week).
  • A framework that regulates injuries.
  • Maternity leave.
  • Paid time off.
  • Compensation should they be fired (which goes through the Social Security institute in Spain).

One of the fundamental points of note is the players aren’t asking for anything extortionate but want what is in line with the male players in La Liga, by law, are entitled to. It’s just to a minimum.

Barcelona? Sure, but what about Tenerife?

Whilst 12 of the 16 Primera Iberdrola clubs have notable male counterparts (Sevilla, Levante, Atleti etc) there are four independent teams (Madrid CFF, UDG Tenerife, Logroño and Sporting de Huelva) and there is certainly the question over what they can afford. Although it’s prudent to remember that not only do the RFEF give each club €350,000 ($388,000) a season (as part of their obligation as a government organisation), but they’ve offered a further €500,000 ($554,000) to the clubs for their television rights.

As it stands, the RFEF, despite having control of the league, do not have control of the TV rights and although not everything boils down to the rights, they certainly do play their part. As teams within the ACFF do generate an income from the tv deals in place and quite clearly do not want to relinquish them, not even for half a million Euros.

The strike

With this all brewing and after a year of getting nowhere with meetings and discussions, 189 players from across the league met with the AFE in Madrid, with 93% of those present voting in favour of the strike. Not only did each club have at least one representative, but Deportivo, Rayo, Athletic Club, Real Betis and Logroño had the majority of their players in attendance. The players ranging from Spanish national team players like Lola Gallardo and Jenni Hermoso, who’ve taken an active role from the outset, to those like Saray García who’s been in the league since the 90’s to internationals like Merel van Dongen and Natalia Gaitán.

It’s clear the action to strike wasn’t taken lightly but it’s unclear (as of now) when the strike will in fact take place and the date have to be formally announced as per Spanish law.

Following the news, the head of the ACFF, Rubén Alcaine has already stated he doesn’t think the strike is the right course of action and that, it’s simply not possible to raise a collective minimum for the league.

* - all dollar figures are approximate