The Ontario government officially backed the Ontario Hockey League in its position that players should not be paid.
In the province’s Economic Outlook and Fiscal Review - a precursor to the spring budget - Finance Minister Vic Fedeli issued a statement saying the players are exempt from the Employment Standards Act.
He said the move will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the league.
The Canadian Hockey League, which governs the country’s three major junior leagues, is currently embroiled in a $180 million lawsuit by players and former players contending that junior players were and are employees who deserve to be paid at least minimum wage.
Labour lawyer Joshua Mandryk of Goldblatt Partners, who is representing the former and current players in the lawsuit, called the move a “Swiss cheese approach to employment standards.”
“The Ontario government is moving exactly in the wrong direction by stripping OHL players of their rights at work. This Swiss cheese approach to employment standards is precisely what the Changing Workplaces Review sought to correct!” Mandryk said on Twitter.
The Ontario Hockey League asked the province last week to back its claim that the players are student athletes, not employees, and are compensated in large part via the league’s scholarship program that pays for a year of schooling for each year a player plays in the league.
In an item of the 174-page provincial government document released Thursday titled “ENSURING THE SUSTAINABILITY OF THE ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE (OHL),” Fedlli wrote:
“The OHL makes significant economic contributions to local communities across the province. The Ontario government is committed to protecting amateur hockey in Ontario. To ensure OHL teams have a level playing field, the Province will exclude OHL players from the Employment Standards Act, 2000, while guaranteeing they receive scholarships for postsecondary education. This change will bring Ontario in line with other provinces, helping to ensure the long‐term sustainability of the league.”
Following the government’s announcement, the OHL issued a statement from commissioner Dave Branch thanking the province for the announcement, saying that that it ensures “that our 17 Ontario teams can continue to be leaders in the community and contribute to the economic development of the communities in which we play,” said Branch.
“This also allows our teams to continue to focus on our most important role and that is providing our 425 players with the best on and off-ice experience, the hallmark of which is our Scholarship Program.”