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Ford should not give hockey league a pass on labour laws

November 12, 2018

“…Allowing a league to run on player dreams instead of paycheques is shameful”: Toronto Star

The Toronto Star editorial board is not impressed with the Ford government’s apparent support for preemptively stripping major junior hockey players from the possibility of claiming employment standards protections, including minimum wage.

Whether major junior hockey players are “employees” of the teams they play for is currently before the Ontario, Alberta, and Quebec courts. The commissioner of the OHL has asked the Ford government to step in and “clarify” the issue – i.e. to amend the Employment Standards Act to explicitly exclude major junior hockey players from its protections.

The Toronto Star editorial takes issue with the “swift and unthinking reply” of Michael Tibollo, the minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, who said “Our government is behind you.”  The Star notes:

If the government gives in to Branch’s demand it means it will be supporting the league, which acts as a feeder to the NHL, and the team owners who make money, in some cases lots of it, off the unpaid labour of teenagers.

These players, typically aged 16 to 20, are drafted and can be traded from team to team far from home. They work, by some accounts, for up to 65 hours a week and play hockey in front of paying audiences.

In exchange for all that, they are given a stipend that can amount to little more than lunch money. They are billeted with families, and eligible — though by no means guaranteed — to receive some amount of scholarship funding when their junior career is over.

These players are being exploited for profit. It’s an injustice, and a longstanding one at that.

Instead of dealing with those challenges head on and coming up with a fairer system, the owners have simply looked to governments to protect them and let them continue to deny their players basic workplace rights, including a minimum wage.

The editorial urges the minister to read our letter responding to the OHL’s request for “clarity” and concludes:

The Ontario government has already taken steps to make sure the minimum wage stays at $14 instead of rising to $15 next year. The least it can do is refrain from ensuring that OHL players will never even be entitled to that much.

Read the entire Toronto Star editorial here.

Also read TSN’s story on the parties’ open letters by Rick Westhead here.


Steven Barrett, Joshua Mandryk

Practice Areas

Civil Litigation, Class Action Litigation, Employment Law