Players’ union chief Damian Hopley has blasted English rugby’s Premiership clubs, claiming they are showing an “abject disregard for the players” over attempts to impose permanent 25 per cent pay cuts which are set to trigger legal action.

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Strike action has not currently been mentioned given the unprecedented financial problems facing the Gallagher Premiership clubs. However, players are reserving their right to take whatever action is necessary to protect their legal rights.

Hopley, the long-serving CEO of the Rugby Players’ Association, believes the decision by PRL earlier this week to cut next season’s salary cap has triggered moves to force some Premiership players to accept new extended contracts with a 25 per cent cut in wages which must be signed by June 18.

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Hopley told RugbyPass: “We are back to square one in terms of dealing with the clubs. We are having to get legal because our hand has been forced having sought independent mediation which hasn’t been forthcoming. There comes a point when you have to take a stand on behalf of the membership. We cannot just sit back and we are up for this, but it is all totally avoidable. It’s a no-brainer.

“It’s no surprise that the salary cap was addressed by the clubs but we feel throughout this process there has been an abject disregard for the players. The players are reserving their rights against the legal framework of the contracts they are on. Some clubs are trying to entice or crowbar players into signing longer contracts with 25 per cent of their salary not counting in next season’s cap,” explained Hopley about what is now set to become a messy Premiership row.

“The lack of transparency means we are now in a position where we have lost faith in the process. We are hearing all sorts of things about a June 18 deadline for contracts being amended without any official comment from PRL or consultation with the RPA.

“We understand the immense contribution the owners make to English rugby but there has to be a better way of operating and the significant issue is that the players are the lifeblood of the game.

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“We are being backed into a corner with offers to players flooding in, saying things like you will be on less money but have a job for an extra season. On one hand, we are told we are going to be involved in a consultation and then the clubs go off and do their own things.

“Temporary pay cuts are in place and we feel totally let down by this scenario. We are grown-ups and respect is a key part of rugby. We don’t believe much respect has been shown to the playing group. The deadline of June 18 is manufactured and all we have is rumour and counter-rumour. We need clarity, dialogue and consultation, not Chinese whispers.

“PRL have been looking to reduce wages by 25 per cent permanently and it was rejected unanimously by our board. We have been working hard to move this forward to address the financial landscape not a quick fix pay cut. This is an opportunity to address root and branch the finances of the 13 clubs.”

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Harlequins prop Mark Lambert, chairman of the RPA, added: “Most of the players have already had temporary 25 per cent pay cuts since March and April as a result of the unprecedented financial challenges exposed by Covid-19. “The RPA have been working diligently over the last twelve weeks to seek to avoid a repeat of the damaging situation the game found itself in when the clubs imposed temporary wage cuts on a unilateral basis in mid-March.

“This latest situation could have been entirely avoided with a collaborative and transparent approach and we now find ourselves heading towards a significant legal dispute unless meaningful and genuine dialogue takes place urgently.

“In the meantime, the RPA position remains unequivocal: the RPA is opposed to permanent cuts for our members. From the outset of this crisis, there has been an absolute disregard for the players and the values of the game. Players at some clubs are now being served with ultimatums and being put under undue pressure to sign amended contracts through the manufactured deadline of June 18.

“To be clear, this is a totally unacceptable way to operate. Players are the lifeblood of the game and should be treated with respect. Players should not engage with this approach. The RPA will continue to fight for our members throughout this crisis.”

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