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HomeBusinessExclusive: Sevens players are not employees, says Rugby Canada in bid to overturn B.C. labour board ruling

Exclusive: Sevens players are not employees, says Rugby Canada in bid to overturn B.C. labour board ruling


Bob Mackin

Rugby Canada wants a B.C. Supreme Court judge to quash the provincial ruling to unionize players from the national men’s sevens team.

Canada in action at the 2019 Canada Sevens in B.C. Place Stadium (Mackin)

The national governing body for rugby filed a petition Sept. 3, the day after Labour Day and just four days before Canada’s 15-aside plays a Rugby World Cup send-off match at B.C. Place Stadium.

In January, the B.C. Labour Relations Board made history when it certified the United Steelworkers Local 1-1937 as the bargaining agent for players on the senior men’s national sevens team, whose training base is in the Victoria suburb of Langford. Rugby Canada lost a bid for the LRB to reconsider the decision.

In its petition, Rugby Canada claims the ruling jeopardizes the structure of amateur athletics in Canada and could mean a Canadian team may someday miss an international tournament over a labour dispute.

“This is fundamentally contrary to the notion of amateur athletics, and inconsistent with the concept of employee as it is understood in labour relations statutes,” said the petition, filed by lawyer Peter Gall.

Gall wants a four-day hearing before a judge to argue that the labour board set a precedent whereby any amateur sports organization can become unionized and be governed by one the country’s 10 provincial labour boards.

Rugby Canada says it is established under federal law as a single national amateur sports organization, of which the sevens team is one part, and that the players are drawn from provincial member organizations. The team trains for part of the year in B.C., with players spending the rest of the year training or playing at national or international tournaments or in their home provinces. The one exception is the Canada Sevens tournament in March at B.C. Place, part of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

Rugby Canada president Allen Vansen (Mackin)

“The regulation of the relationship between amateur athletes and national sports organizations like Rugby Canada is federal, by virtue of them being involved in trade and commerce that extends beyond the limits of a single province under [the Constitution Act of 1867],” the petition says.

Players receive $5,000 for appearing at the Canada Sevens, but only $400 for each international World Series stop and the Sevens World Cup and $250 for the Rugby Americas North and Rugby 7s World Cup qualifiers. For 2017-2018, Rugby Canada was allocated $288,000 from Sport Canada to the Men’s team, players received $900 or $1,500 monthly.

The financial support players receive from Sport Canada is not taxable, because they are not employees and are not subject to employment insurance, workers’ compensation or employment standards laws, the petition says. Rugby Canada receives funding from World Rugby, Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, provincial and municipal grants, sponsorships, donations and player registrations, as well as tickets and merchandise and rugby courses.

Rugby Canada has 30,000 registered participants and 45 people on the payroll in administrative, management or coaching positions.

Canada hosts the U.S. on Sept. 7 at B.C. Place Stadium in the final match before the World Cup in Japan, which begins Sept. 20.

The 2020 Canada Sevens is March 7 and 8 at B.C. Place.

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