Court battle looms as WIPA accuses Board of 'unreasonable restraints'

Indo Asian News Service

Port of Spain, Aug 28 (IANS/CMC) A high court judge has given the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) six weeks to enter a defence to a motion filed by the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) on the issuing of no objection certificates (NOCs) to regional players.

Justice David Harris of the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, who heard the matter here earlier this week, also gave the regional cricket administrators 16 days to enter an appearance from the date of being served.

In a 46-page motion filed in the high court, WIPA contends that the WICB 'has engaged in a malicious, wanton and willful campaign to breach the express and implied terms of the collective bargaining agreements' between the two parties 'as well as impose unlawful and unreasonable restraints of trade on West Indian cricketers'.

It also alleges that the 'WICB has even gone as far as tortiously interfering with the contracts between WIPA and its members in a blatant attempt to obliterate WIPA from the negotiating table.

'So egregious is the WICB's conduct, that, while the WICB purports to act on the player's behalf without their authority, and despite the existence of gross conflicts of interests, the WICB profits from the players' plight by being paid a sum equivalent to 10 per cent of the player's salaries earned by the players participating in overseas matches - all while causing millions of dollars in damages to WIPA and its members,' WIPA said in the court documents.

It said that the WICB has refused to communicate with it to 'to resolve these issues and instead has forced WIPA to commence this action to prevent the WICB from interfering with a player's right to ply his trade and from continuing to breach the agreements between the parties.

'Simply put, the WICB cannot justify its intentional and malicious conduct and must be stopped to prevent further damage to WIPA, West Indian cricketers and West Indies cricket on the whole.'

WIPA which says it represents at least 300 West Indian cricketers with no more than 25 players signing retainer contracts with the WICB at any time.

At the centre of the legal challenge are the allegations by WIPA of the refusal by the WICB 'to grant an unconditional NOC to players who have no contractual obligations to the WICB or any teams under its jurisdiction'.

WIPA deems the action as 'unlawful, unenforceable' adding that it 'constitutes an unreasonable restraint of trade' since it interferes with and 'has interfered with the liberty of, and is unfair and oppressive' and also 'inhibits the players from freely plying their trade as free agents ...'

The players' representative body is also arguing that the unilateral decision by the WICB has resulted in the 'affected players ...not been compensated for the damages they have suffered and continue to suffer ...'

'WICB's actions are designed solely to exploit and profit from players and various members of WIPA to their detriment.'

It also claims that the refusal to grant the NOCs is a breach of the Collective Bargaining Agreements and the Memorandum of Understanding between WIPA and the WICB and as a result the players and their representative organisation have suffered losses and damages.

WIPA is asking the High Court here to issue a declaration that the refusal by the WICB to issue an unconditional NOC to a player that it has not been contracted is unreasonable, and that the policy is 'oppressive, illegal, contrary to public policy and constitutes an unlawful restraint of trade'

Among the 18 orders and declarations being sought by WIPA, is one 'compelling the WICB to issue unconditional NOCs to players not retained or contracted by the WICB, when requested' and that 'the WICB's refusal to communicate, negotiate and agree with WIPA on issues concerning a player or any of its members constitutes a breach of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding signed by the parties on September 4, 2006'.

Further, the players' body is seeking 'not less than' $10 million in actual damages to 'compensate WIPA and its members for the WICB's breaches of the Agreements and Member Contracts as well as for lost earnings to individual players and a further $10 million in actual and exemplary damages 'to compensate WIPA and its members for the WICB's willful and malicious actions'.

The latest move comes just weeks after WIPA and the WICB sat down to negotiate a new CBA/MOU, with the current agreement set to expire at the end of next month.

In a recent release, the Board said it was confident these negotiations could be concluded by that time.