In response to the growing problem of wage arrears in China’s lower league teams, some commentators are calling for the establishment of a football players’ trade union to help defend players’ rights and ensure they are paid in full and on time.
Currently, professional football players in China’s lower leagues are paid a fraction of the salaries earned by their colleagues in the Super League and routinely go months without any pay at all.
One commentator claimed that many lower league players are little more than tools manipulated by the private companies that control lower league teams in the hope of raising their brand profile but rarely invest any money in the clubs’ development.
Many players seem to lack sufficient legal knowledge to defend their rights and are willing to accept illegal clauses in their contracts, or even go without pay, in the hope of extending their playing career and maybe being signed by a Super League team.
It is unclear at present how popular the idea of a players’ trade union will be but players from several League Two teams did take collective action last year over persistent wage arrears, staging protests both on the pitch and in front of government buildings.
Players from Jilin Baijia stage a protest after their 2-0 victory over the Qingdao Red Lions in September 2019
Some players have even compared themselves to migrant construction workers who were cheated out of their wages by a labour contractor and are now desperate to get paid before returning home for the Lunar New Year Holiday.
Given that neither the clubs nor the Football Association have so far acted to resolve the players’ grievances, it is possible that support for a player’s trade union could begin to gain traction this year.
The Football Association has given clubs in League One and Two an extended deadline, 31 January, to submit salary and bonus details for the coming year but it is feared several clubs will still not be able to meet the deadline and consequently will be dissolved, creating even more wage arrears problems.
Players from the disbanded League One team Dalian Transcendence, for example, have been waiting for more than a year to be paid the wages still owed to them but the courts have refused to accept the case, ruling that it “does not fall within the scope of labour arbitration.” Instead, the court said it was the responsibility of the Football Association to clear up the mess.