Wellington league refs threaten strike over pay

SAM WORTHINGTON
AND MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2012
Jason Hemson
Andrew Gorrie/ FAIRFAX NZ
JASON HEMSON: "It's not a major problem, it's just a cashflow thing..."

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Wellington rugby league referees are collectively owed thousands of dollars in match payments and discussed striking ahead of this weekend's games.

A source said the region's 30 referees had not been paid for the past six weeks, and were owed a total of about $5000, dating back to 2009.

At a regular fortnightly meeting on Tuesday night, a motion was put forward for the referees to strike ahead of this weekend's games.

Strike action was avoided by one vote, with some referees fearful of the damage that would cause the sport's reputation.

Wellington Rugby League general manager Jason Hemson admitted that referees were owed money but said they would be paid in full by this weekend.

He was unaware that the referees had discussed striking.

"It's not a major problem, it's just a cashflow thing with the clubs," Hemson said.

"We've made arrangements to get them all paid by the weekend. There's a couple of guys who were upset that they didn't get paid and the rest of them have basically said, `Well, we do it for the love of it'. It's a non-issue really."

The source said some referees were owed up to $700 each as WRL repeatedly promised payment then failed to deliver.

Hemson – who himself has regularly refereed games because of shortages – said the holdup was due to a "domino effect".

Clubs are required to pay "referees fees" to the WRL, which are then distributed to the whistleblowers.

But some clubs had not yet paid their referees fees because they were still waiting on player subscriptions.

"So we charge the clubs and then the clubs pay us and we pay the referees. The problem is, whilst I have got money in the bank, it's for specific purposes and so it can't just be handed over to the referees," Hemson said.

"The clubs get charged for that and they pay it when their funds come through. As I say it's just a timing issue and they'll get paid by the weekend."

Hemson said referees used to get paid in cash on matchdays but WRL changed to the current system two years ago to appear more transparent to clubs.

Referee payments had increased from $40 to $50 per game this season to factor in rising petrol costs.

"For most of them, they don't do it to make money out of it, it's more to cover their costs. The reality is it's been a pretty tough couple of years with revenue from pokies down and also from sponsorship," Hemson said.

"I've just spoken to the secretary and he'll have them all paid by the weekend. I hadn't heard about them striking, I'd be pretty disappointed if they took that line."

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Contact Sam Worthington
Sports reporter
Email: sam.worthington@dompost.co.nz

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- The Dominion Post

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