Toronto·Exclusive

Outward Bound Canada doesn't pay minimum wage for 100-hour workweeks, says ex-instructor

A former instructor for Outward Bound Canada alleges the registered charity is breaking Ontario labour laws by failing to pay minimum wage, overtime and schedule breaks for employees.

Alex Haney hasn't been offered a contract this season after raising concerns with charity

Alex Haney says he pays about $2,500 a year to maintain the outdoor certifications he needed to work at Outward Bound Canada. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

A former instructor for Outward Bound Canada alleges the registered charity is breaking Ontario labour laws by failing to pay minimum wage, overtime and schedule breaks for employees.

Alex Haney, who worked for Outward Bound Canada in Toronto for two years, says he and other instructors were regularly putting in over 100 hours a week guiding overnight camping trips in the Greater Toronto Area.

The 31-year-old loves the outdoors and says he became a professional guide because he saw a "huge lack of diversity" in the industry.

"I'm a queer and trans person," Haney told CBC Toronto. "A lot of minorities who are in my position don't feel comfortable in the outdoors because they don't see a lot of representation of themselves."

Eager to change that, and loving his job, it wasn't until last fall that Haney started taking a closer eye at his pay stubs and the Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA).

He discovered his employer wasn't recording all of the hours he worked, so he didn't qualify for employment insurance, which he needed in the off-season as a seasonal contract employee.

Haney submitted a complaint to Ontario's Ministry of Labour in November 2017. The ministry says it received a complaint that month and it is still in progress. This spring, Haney received a letter from Outward Bound Canada adjusting his employment hours along with a cheque for more than $1,000 that he says he was owed to comply with minimum wage. 

But Haney says that isn't enough.

He's still pursuing the labour complaint because the charity hasn't committed to changing the pay structure for his former co-workers, and he believes Outward Bound Canada hasn't offered him a contract this season because he spoke up.

As a result, he's now working at a fast-food chain.

Haney says his efforts to stay in the industry were costing him before he even started researching his employee rights.

$2,500 a year to maintain certifications

As an Outward Bound instructor, Haney says he had to provide his own gear and maintain high-level certifications like "wilderness first responder" to keep his job.

Courses to obtain a number of outdoor certifications have put him in thousands of dollars of debt, and he says he pays about $2,500 a year to maintain the certifications now. 

Twenty-five per cent of what I was making was going to just keeping my job.- Alex Haney,  former instructor

"Last year from Outward Bound, I made around $10,000," said Haney, "So that's like 25 per cent of what I was making was going to just keeping my job."

Outward Bound Canada instructors are paid on a per diem basis in Ontario. In Haney's first year, his pay was $125 a day, but that rose to $140 in his second year because he had acquired more certifications.

If he worked a day program, he says, the pay worked out, because over an eight-hour span, he still made more than minimum wage.

Haney, bottom right, says he and other instructors regularly worked more than 100 hours a week guiding overnight camping trips in the GTA. (Alex Haney)

He says the trouble came with the overnight trips, which made up most of the job.  

"With those you're starting at 6:30 in the morning, going to 10:30 or 11 at night. When you do the math on that and you average that over all of those hours, it becomes way less than minimum wage."

He says the charity counted hours and paid its per diem based on a 7.5-hour day, regardless of how many extra hours instructors worked. As a result, Haney says, sometimes he made as little as $8 an hour when stretched over the whole day or week.

'We are meeting ESA for our industry'

In an interview, an Outward Bound Canada representative told CBC Toronto that in the expedition industry, "the common method of pay is the per diem basis," and in terms of minimum wage, the charity's "contracts are set up in consultation with our legal team and they review it to make sure they're within the [Employment Standards Act] regulations.

"We are meeting ESA for our industry," said Marika Chandler, the Ontario program director.

Marika Chandler, Ontario program director for Outward Bound Canada, says the charity meets Employment Standards Act requirements for its industry. (Skype)

Haney says he met with Outward Bound Canada three times between January and April to try to sort out the issue.

But he says while staff agreed he was considered an employee, they told him he didn't have the employee rights he was claiming because his job fell into a sub-classification of hunting and fishing guides.

Haney says he was told the designation exempted him from minimum wage, overtime and limits on hours of work.

"I wouldn't say that I'm a hunting and fishing guide because I don't hunt or fish on any of the trips," Haney told CBC Toronto. "I don't even know how."

But later, when Haney pushed Outward Bound Canada about the designation, he says he was told there is no proper category for instructors, but that hunting and fishing guides were the closest fit. 

I don't hunt or fish on any of the trips ... I don't even know how.- Haney

Chandler wouldn't comment on how instructors are classified, other than to say the charity is ESA compliant.

The lawyer Haney ended up hiring to review his case disagrees.

Marc Kitay from Whitten & Lublin told CBC Toronto "there's a number of violations under the ESA,"  and most of them fall under the hunting and fishing guide exemption, "which clearly didn't apply to him."

Sure that he shouldn't be considered a hunting and fishing guide, Haney prepared a 64 page settlement agreement for Outward Bound Canada, which included sections where the charity would have to agree to notify other instructors of the issues with their pay and correct the situation going forward.

Co-workers 'can't make ends meet'

"My co-workers who are still working there now are really just struggling to survive and stay in the industry," says Haney. "I see people leaving because they can't make ends meet, which is just horrible."

He also provided a recommendation report to the charity that shows how adding an additional instructor when scheduling trips could avoid excessive hours, allow for breaks and pay employees the minimum wage.

"It only ended up being like $100 more for Outward Bound per week," says Haney. "I was just stumped as to why they wouldn't take that on."

In the end, Outward Bound Canada sent Haney its own settlement agreement, which would give him the adjusted hours and pay he wanted.

Haney wrote a recommendation report to Outward Bound Canada showing how adding an additional instructor when scheduling trips could avoid excessive hours, allow for breaks and pay employees the minimum wage. (Alex Haney)

The catch, Haney says, is the charity didn't admit any liability or commit to changing practices with other employees, and the settlement had a non-disclosure agreement.

He refused to sign it, but says Outward Bound Canada has since sent him a cheque for what he calculated and a letter saying it changed his hours and considers the matter settled.

Haney doesn't — and believes speaking up for his rights came with a price tag.

Haney refused to sign Outward Bound Canada's settlement deal because the charity didn't admit any liability and required a non-disclosure agreement. (Alex Haney)

Outward Bound Canada wouldn't comment on Haney's employment, but Chandler told CBC Toronto, "We've had one employee who's brought some concerns forward, and we've worked with that employee and have amicably come to a settlement."

But that's not how Haney feels. He'd still love to work at Outward Bound Canada if they changed their practices.

"This is my calling, you know?" Haney says.

"I fought really hard to get into this industry and it's just heartbreaking to me."

About the Author

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

With files from Farrah Merali