Nova Scotia

Unifor slams minimum wage exemption for athletes

Canada's largest private sector union says Nova Scotia's decision to exempt some athletes from making minimum wage is "ridiculous."

'If you're talking about exploitation, this is a perfect example,' said Unifor's national president

Halifax Mooseheads left winger Jonathan Drouin holds the Memorial Cup after the Mooseheads defeated the Portland Winterhawks in the finals of the 2013 Memorial Cup in Saskatoon, Sask., on Sunday, May 26, 2013. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Canada's largest private sector union says Nova Scotia's decision to exempt some athletes from making minimum wage is "ridiculous."

"If you're talking about exploitation, this is a perfect example and [Premier Stephen] McNeil should be frankly ashamed of himself for doing this," said Jerry Dias, Unifor's national president.

"These are workers that are not even making minimum wage, these are workers that are performing for audiences. This is how ridiculous this is."

Players 'work at least 40 hours a week'

On Monday, changes were made to Nova Scotia's labour standard code. It affects Nova Scotian athletes that are considered employees of their teams, such as Halifax Mooseheads players. This means athletes can be paid less than minimum wage, and can be exempt from regulations on vacation pay and defined work hours.

Halifax Mooseheads players make $60/week or $150/week if they're 20 or older. Dias said factoring in games, practice and other team related commitments, players "work at least 40 hours a week."

"In a hockey arena, they will pay the people that clean the ice, they'll pay the people that wash the toilets, they'll pay the concession stands ... but the players that put the product on the ice will not make a dime," said Dias.

QMJHL happy with decision

The commissioner of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League said he's happy with the Nova Scotia Department of Labour's decision to exempt some Nova Scotia athletes from receiving minimum wage.

"For us, we've never believed that they were employees, working under the legislative chain. They are student athletes playing the game they love at the highest level of hockey for their age," said Gilles Courteau.

"We fully support the government of Nova Scotia's decision to confirm that our players are student athletes and are not covered by the employment standards legislation," said Courteau.

'You're not there to make money'

Stephen MacAulay, a former Halifax Moosehead player, says changes to Nova Scotia's labour code are not a big deal. 

MacAulay played for the Mooseheads for part of the 2012-2013 season and said he made more than enough playing in the QMJHL.

For example, MacAulay said many players are billeted with a family so they don't pay rent or pay for food. He said 
playing hockey provides other benefits. 

"You do it for different reasons. You're not there to make money. You get scholarships for university after you're done playing. So I mean I'm using that right now. So that's kind of like, being paid while I was there. It's not all monetary rewards that you get there," said MacAulay.

With files from Steve Berry