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B.C. government amends labour law to exempt WHL from minimum wage

Each province in Canada sets its own minimum hourly wage for workers in that province. However, there are exceptions to this labour law in several provinces, including British Columbia. A local hockey league with teams across the province, including here in Vancouver, recently sought to become one of those exceptions.

On Feb. 16, 2016, the provincial government passed a cabinet order that exempts the BC-based teams of the WHL major junior hockey league from paying their players' minimum wage. The Employment Standards Act now no longer applies to amateur hockey players, which means that they are not required to be paid the provincial minimum, holiday pay or have set working hours. The decision was made after the government was lobbied by league executives and team owners.

The lobby came about because of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the players, though the suit has yet to be certified. Team owners expressed concern that the league could not survive if they were required to pay players as employees. Estimates suggest that each team would have to support a payroll of about $228,000 a year if the players earned the BC minimum $10.85 an hour. Currently, each player receives a $250 monthly stipend, as well as a one-year college or university scholarship for each year they are in the league. Players in the WHL are between 16 and 20 years of age.

The position of the government is that the players are amateur athletes, and not professionals. The Canadian Hockey League Players' Association, a union looking to represent the WHL players, felt the government's decision was flawed because the league did not reveal the financial records to prove its case. The league commissioner, however, claims that only one of the league's six teams is financially stable.

It is possible to see and understand both sides of the argument. The players give up much of their time to play the sport, making it difficult to earn any money outside of the league. On the other hand, the owners claim to be operating at a loss already, and believe paying a wage would cause the league to collapse. Labour law disputes can be tricky situations to handle. Any individual or group of workers, or employer with a labour law issue here in Vancouver might appreciate the knowledge and support of a labour and employment-focused law firm.

Source: Times Colonist, "B.C. exempts WHL teams, including Victoria, from paying minimum wage", Rob Shaw, Oct. 21, 2016

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