NS to Junior Hockey Players: Labour Protection? Who Needs It!
July 27, 2016 By: Andrew Montague-Reinholdt Read Time: 3 minutes
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In December, I wrote about the challenges junior hockey players have faced in their attempt to unionize and enforce their basic employment rights, such as minimum wage (read the post here). As though these attempts were not difficult enough, provincial governments have been actively trying to make it even harder for players to enforce even their minimum employment rights (credit to Professor David Doorey’s Law of Work Blog for making me aware of this issue found here and Rick Westhead’s article here).

Earlier this month, the Nova Scotia government amended its Labour Standards Code to exclude “athletes … engaged in their athletic endeavor” from the Code. This exclusion was meant to exempt junior hockey players (and other athletes) from various provisions of the Code, including minimum wage, defined hours of work, holiday and vacation pay, and employment termination provisions.

The provincial government has explicitly stated that this legislative change is meant to prevent junior hockey players from bringing a class action lawsuit against their teams, because junior hockey is “important to” the province and the class action suit is “killing junior hockey” in the province. This is curious, considering:

  • The class action referred to is basically still in its infancy stage;
  • Teams are not required to pay more than the $50ish/week stipend to their players;
  • There are basically no other sports in the province, so these arenas often fill up for games; and,
  • Junior teams are worth millions of dollars.

British Columbia and Saskatchewan had already made similar changes to their legislation.

Players have nothing to fear, though, because the Premier of Nova Scotia, Stephen McNeill, has assured players that: “Teams know they have the responsibilities to the players in treating them well. They’ll continue to do so. Every kid that I know would want to go play, as a matter of fact they’d pay to play.” I am sure that Premier McNeill is correct that these leagues are truly going to look after the kids’ best interest, despite junior hockey’s legacy of not paying its employees, sorry, “student athletes” (or are we just going to start saying “indentured servants” now?). They have denied them access to the scholarships they are supposed to receive after playing hockey, and have not adequately dealt with issues, including head injuries and substance abuse (more on that in my previous blog post).

Amendments to the Labour Standards Code will prevent those greedy 17 to 19-year-old hockey players from bringing litigation to enforce their basic employment rights, so they can get back to playing hockey that the millionaire owners have been generous enough to allow them to play!

In a similar vein, I think it is time that we reconsider other labour laws, because employers can be trusted to do the right thing and employees should just be grateful that they have the opportunity to provide their services. Consider these below:

  • Let’s eliminate child labour laws – employers know when you’re old enough to operate a sewing machine!
  • Who needs maternity/parental leave protections? Surely employers will continue to let people take as much time as they need!
  • Far from curbing unpaid internships, we should lean into it and prohibit any employee from being paid during their first 2 years of work. They don’t need wages, because they can live off their gratitude that a company was nice enough to offer them a job (and their faint hopes that it will someday turn into a paid position)!

So, kudos to the Nova Scotia government for leading the way on protecting junior hockey from having to do what basically every other industry and employer in Canada has to do. After all, hockey is a far more time-honored tradition in Canada than protecting workers!

This content is not intended to provide legal advice or opinion as neither can be given without reference to specific events and situations. © 2019 Nelligan O’Brien Payne LLP.