The Portuguese Competition Authority for the first time issues statements of objections for an anticompetitive agreement in the labor market against national football league and 31 sports companies who agreed not to hire back employees who terminated their employment due to COVID-19 (Portuguese Professional Football League)

AdC issues Statements of Objections for anticompetitive agreement in the labour market for the first time*

The AdC (Portuguese Competition Authority) has issued for the first time Statements of Objections for an agreement not to hire workers, in this case involving the Portuguese Professional Football League and 31 sports companies.

This is the first decision regarding an anti-competitive practice in the labour market, that may occur in any sector of activity and is punishable under the Competition Law.

The AdC issued Statements of Objections to 31 sports companies participating in the 2019/2020 edition of the First and Second Leagues and the Portuguese Professional Football League (LPFP) for a competition restrictive agreement. The agreement prevented the hiring by First and Second League of professional football clubs, of players who unilaterally terminated their employment contract invoking issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As a result of this agreement, a player who ceased his contract mentioning pandemic-related reasons could not be hired by another club in the First or Second Professional Football Leagues in Portugal, and could only be hired by a club if it was located outside of Portugal or if it participated in a competition below the two main professional leagues in Portugal.

Through a non-hiring (no-poach), agreement companies abstain from hiring each other’s workers, therefore renouncing to competition for the acquisition of human resources, in addition to depriving workers of labour mobility.

In the present case, the agreement is able to reduce the quality of football matches and thereby to harm consumers by reducing the competitive environment between clubs, preventing the hiring of players that could fill gaps in teams, and resulting in the loss of players in national competitions.

The case was opened by the AdC in May 2020, following two press releases issued by the LPFP on 7 and 8 April which referred to a deliberation/decision, adopted by agreement between the First League clubs, with the participation of the President of the LPFP, and to which the Second League clubs adhered.

This deliberation/decision stated that clubs would not hire players who unilaterally terminated their employment due to issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Given the nature and characteristics of the behaviour, as well as the potential damage, serious and irreparable, or of difficult reparation, arising from it for the competitive functioning of the markets, the AdC determined, the implementation of interim measures on 26 May, 2020. The AdC stresses that the adoption of a Statement of Objections does not determine the final outcome of the investigation. At this stage of the case, the companies concerned are given the opportunity to exercise their right to be heard and to defend themselves in relation to the alleged infringement and the sanction or sanctions they may incur.

*This is the original title of the press release. The title above has been amended in order to match the e-Competitions format. Individual authors are welcome to provide original independent commentaries on the case law. Articles are subject to approval by the Board of e-Competitions Bulletin before publication based on the Editorial Policy (click here).

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Portuguese Competition Authority, The Portuguese Competition Authority for the first time issues statements of objections for an anticompetitive agreement in the labor market against national football league and 31 sports companies who agreed not to hire back employees who terminated their employment due to COVID-19 (Portuguese Professional Football League), 19 April 2021, e-Competitions April 2021, Art. N° 100470

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