Ulster Rugby chief executive Jonny Petrie has insisted that putting all players and coaching staff on furlough during the Covid-19 public health crisis is essential to protecting the business.
Petrie yesterday confirmed that 70% of the province’s 183 staff, including its 44-man senior squad and 19 coaching staff members led by head coach Dan McFarland, had been placed on the UK government’s job retention scheme since the beginning of April. Under that scheme, employers can claim cash grants worth up to 80% of wages, capped at £2,500 (€2,850) a month per worker.
Ulster players in conjunction with governing body the IRFU and the other three provinces had agreed on March 20 to a payment deferral model for all employees ranging from 10% to 50% for those earning more than €25,000 per year, and Petrie said this further measure had not been met with any resistance.
“The first thing to do was for everyone to buy into a salary deferral, which we did quite early,” the Ulster chief executive told BBC Northern Ireland.
“We had positive conversations and discussions through the IRFU as well, with Rugby Players Ireland, and everyone in Ulster Rugby understands the nature of the situation and everyone wants to work together to protect the business in the long term so that when we come out the back end of this, we are coming back better and stronger than we were when we went in.
“All the discussions with the players around that have been very understanding about why we’re doing that. So they understand the bigger picture of why it’s important to, like thousands of other businesses and governing bodies in sport, to be able to take advantage of appropriate government schemes to be able to help us ride through this period.”
Ulster have not played since February 22 and still have to play nine more scheduled rounds of the Guinness PRO14 campaign as well as a Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final away to Toulouse. Petrie would like to see the 2019-2020 season completed but only if the conditions are right and player and public safety can be guaranteed.
“We’ll review again as we go through the next few weeks and see what comes after the beginning of May because we all want to look at the way forward on this. We want to see where we are able to control an environment for our players to return to train and we want to work with the relevant stakeholders to be able to facilitate that at the right time.
“As with all our staff, we’ll continue to review that on an ongoing basis and at the point where the players are able to come back and work and take part in structured training then we’ll review that employment situation but at the moment it’s the relevant and appropriate thing for us to do.”