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Ulster Rugby puts players on furlough, IRFU to top up salaries

The northern province has placed 70% of its staff onto the UK government’s job-retention scheme.

ULSTER RUGBY HAS put all players and the majority of its staff on the UK government’s furlough scheme, with rugby currently at a standstill due to the Covid-19 crisis.

CEO Jonny Petrie announced the measures this afternoon via conference call, while the IRFU confirmed to The42 that the decision had been reached in conjunction with the union. The measures came into effect on 1 April.

All players and roughly 70% of Ulster’s 183 staff members have been placed on the UK government’s job-retention scheme.

The IRFU said that Ulster players who are on contracts with the union will have their wages topped up to the deferred level of salary previously agreed.

Last month, the IRFU confirmed pay deferrals of 10 to 50% for all of its employees, saying that the union “hopes to return to full pay, and repay any deferrals, as soon as possible.

kingspan-stadium Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Ulster being based in the UK means the province’s employees qualify to go onto the British government’s furlough scheme.

Essentially, this scheme means that when a business furloughs its employees, the UK government pays up to 80% of their wages, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month.

The scheme aims to keep people in their jobs, rather than seeing them let go by businesses. Petrie said that six of Ulster’s performance staff had not been placed on furlough.

Some of Ulster’s players are on ‘central contracts’ fully funded by the IRFU, based in the Republic of Ireland. Those players have also been put on furlough, although the IRFU will top up their salaries to the levels agreed when the pay deferrals were announced last month.

“We have a number of centrally-contracted players in our squad and our whole squad is being treated the same,” said Ulster CEO Petrie. 

“They are employed by the IRFU but their employment base is here in the North and, as such, they are eligible for the scheme and are members of staff of Ulster. So it’s the entirety of the playing group that is in furlough, there are no exceptions to that.”

A brief IRFU statement added:

“All Ulster players are on furlough, and if applicable their wages are being topped up by the IRFU to the deferred level of salary agreed last month.”

As for Ulster, Petrie said the current financial hit being caused by the shutdown of rugby has not affected the province’s recruitment and contracting plans for next season.

“We had done all of our business prior to this all taking effect, so we were comfortable enough from that perspective,” said the former Scotland international, who joined Ulster in late 2018.

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“We’ve got no further recruitment left that we need to do, so all of that was complete and that forms part of the financial picture that we will build for next year.”

While Petrie stressed that Ulster would be following guidelines from the UK government, with the IRFU doing the same in the Republic of Ireland, they do hope to see the 2019/20 season finished in some form.

The four Irish provinces had initially planned to return to training on 18 May but that remains uncertain, particularly with Ulster’s players now all on furlough.

“Everyone wants to see the season completed in some capacity,” said Petrie. “It’s very difficult to forecast just now because we’re not necessarily seeing over the top of the peak and don’t have a path forward on this.

“Over the course of the next month, we’d hope to have some clarity around when we can return to play. The added thing that’s important to recognise is that ahead of returning to play, you need to return to train.

“Again, that’s a difficult one for people to get their heads around. We and the IRFU will work with the relevant authorities here to look at how we get players back to the point where they’re taking part in structured training in groups, in what would need to be a tightly-controlled capacity.

“Everyone wants to see the ’19/20 season completed in some capacity, both from a Pro14 and EPCR perspective, as well as the international game. Yes, we need to rely on the relevant government advice but everyone’s working towards making that happen.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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