The commodification of labour in the Australian Football League: what is the impact of free agency?

Matt Nichol

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Players in the Australian Football League like athletes in other sports have limited control over their labour. Teenagers are drafted by a club and must accept the uniform contract and mandatory minimum wage or sit out of professional football for one year and wait until the next draft. These players have limited rights to choose their employer and can be traded at any time to another club. Such labour systems violate the principle that labour is not a commodity and tend to commodify labour by treating labour as property that is capable of ownership. However, free agency, a labour control that was developed in Major League Baseball gives players who work for a designated period of time that ability to choose their employer, and in doing so decommodifies labour. Free agency, like other legal rules and institutions, can be transplanted from a country or legal system to another system. This occurred in 2012 when the AFL introduced free agency through collective bargaining. This article will explore the effects of free agency on the treatment of labour as a commodity, examine how convergence and divergence can occur when free agency is transplanted from Major League Baseball to the Australian Football League and identify the role of collective bargaining in the evolution of free agency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-99
Number of pages27
JournalAustralian Journal of Labour Law
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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