Trade unions team up with angry Kings for legal battle
REACTION: Listen as apoplectic Southern Kings Director of Rugby Robbie Kempson chats to Jan de Koning about the latest bomb to be dropped on the hapless franchise.
Trade unions are pooling their collective might to launch a court bid to assist angry and devastated Southern Kings players and staff.
This follows the weekend statement by the board of SA Super Rugby (Pty) Ltd to place the Kings into voluntary liquidation.
It has left all the players, coaching and other staff unemployed and without an income with immediate effect.
While a small number of players have found alternative employment and at least one has expressed his willingness to “play for free”, the bulk of the Kings’ players and staff find themselves jobless.
Dynamic loose forward Elrigh Louw has signed with the Bulls, lock and captain John-Charles Astle is heading to French second-division club Rouen Normandie, loose forward Thembelani Bholi and utility back Masixole Banda have joined Griquas, while Bobby de Wee and Lusanda Badiyana are also in talks with French clubs.
Kempson, who said his involvement with rugby in the Eastern Cape has come to an end, also confirmed that talented loose forward Cyril Velleman has offered his serves “for free” to Griquas just to get some game time.
However, three trade unions have pooled their resources to assist unemployed players and staff in legal proceedings.
At the weekend the players’ trade union MyPlayers berated “amateur” officials for destroying the professional game and claimed “mismanagement” cost the players their livelihoods.
Sport Employees Unite, the trade union representing the non-playing staff, waded in on the matter and said corporate governance in the rugby industry in South Africa is “not up to standard”.
“There are many questions that need to be answered and hopefully during the liquidation process, it will be,” Piet Heymans, Chief Executive Officer of SEU, said.
“What aggrieves our members is how this has been handled.
“To just call your employees to a meeting and cold and clinically tell them that they do not have a job anymore without providing any form of assistance or support leaves a sour taste in everybody’s mouths and do not take into account the human tragedy that is left behind.”
The now unemployed Director of Rugby, Kempson, revealed that in excess of 50 people are now without an income – 36 players, along with the franchise staff and backroom staff.
He echoed the sentiments expressed by the trade unions.
“The manner in which it was done,” Kempson told @rugby365com, adding: “Promise after promise was made that there was going to be nothing untoward, at least until the end of December, and then to have this bomb dropped on you on a Saturday afternoon in an almost callous manner took everyone by surprise.”
He added that none of them, himself included, have employment anymore.
“That is the stark reality of where we are at,” he said, adding: “Payday is Friday and none of us will receive any money.
“There were promises made a couple of weeks ago and there were further promises [in] every meeting we had with the Chairman and the board, who told us they were not going to liquidate.
“When they withdrew us from the domestic competition [in August] it was with the view of the fact that they want to ensure we are going to get paid our salaries.”
Kempson added that this comes after all the players and staff took salary cuts as part of the COVID-19 agreement to ensure their salaries are safeguarded till the end of the year.
“We had all these promises given to us and then out of nowhere to have a bomb dropped on us and the meeting being cut short, with not all the questions being answered, is devastating.
“Someone has to be answerable for something that seems to be a consistent situation in South African rugby.”
Kempson confirmed that the trade unions are hard at work behind the scenes to help the players and staff.
“Piet [Heymans, CEO of Sport Employees Unite] has been exceptional in assisting us,” he said, adding that De Wee is the Kings’ representative on the players union, MyPlayers.
“They also had a meeting with [veteran prop] Schalk [Ferreira], as he has been through this before with Ronnie Cooke,” he said of the 2015 liquidation of the Kings.
“One or two of them are members of [trade union] Solidarity.
“They [the trade unions] are all pooling their resources to present a common front in this reparation process.”
He said the older members of the union are better equipped to deal with the situation, but for the players it was a devastating bombshell.
“There is more than anger and that anger is not going to dissipate anytime soon.
“You have 50-odd people that are angry, plus some lawyers that are still busy with the previous liquidation.
“They are not going to sit back and take things as they come.
“I think there is a definite drive for accountability.”
He said all the players are free agents now.
However, the problem is that all the European and domestic teams have done their recruitment really and only a handful of Kings players will find alternative employment.
“It seems sad to say, the [Kings] players have to hope there are injuries in other teams and the coaches think they might be valuable assets.
“The timing of this is absolutely despicable.
“There are no opportunities out there at present for players.
“That is why a guy like CJ [Velleman] is willing to take a risk and play for free to get some game time.”
Having been in PE for 10 years and with his wife working at a local school, he has no plans to move anywhere.
“We will hang around here for a while longer, but my involvement with rugby in the Eastern Cape would have come to an end.”
The trade unions are united in their stance that there is a need for better ‘corporate governance’ in rugby in South Africa.
“The corporate governance in the rugby industry is not up to standard,” Heymans told @rugby365com.
“It must be improved. Our experience has been that many rugby unions do not adhere to the guidelines of the King IV Code.
“Corporate governance should be concerned with ethical leadership, attitude, mindset and behaviour and the focus must be on transparency and thoughtful disclosures.
“We are not seeing this in rugby!
“There must be strict criteria including financial norms that must be adhered to before a rugby union can participate in a professional competition.
“France has successfully implemented such a model for participation in their Top 14 competition and they have not had to deal with liquidations and human suffering.
“We can not just continue in the manner we are.
“There must be change as we have to protect the rugby industry for the sake of all stakeholders,” Heymans concluded.
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