By Brian Ramsay
For football fans across Canada, Labour Day is something special. In fact, next to the Grey Cup, Labour Day match ups in the CFL are one of its biggest traditions.
As players, we appreciate that tradition and the fan support that goes along with it. But players also recognize that Labour Day is much more than a series of important football games. Labour Day is a moment when Canadians, regardless of their occupation, skill, profession or the colour of their collar, celebrate the importance of work in their lives and in their communities.
In that regard, CFL players are no different. We have a job to do. We earn a paycheque like everyone else. In fact, while a few marque players earn top dollar during their playing careers, the starting salary in our league is pretty close to the average household income in Canada at $52,000.
Even when you add in the top salaries and player bonuses, the average CFL salary tops out at $86,000. Our occupation — professional football player — is one we have worked hard to achieve. And even though the average CFL player’s working career in the league is short (currently a little less than three years), ours is a job we are proud to do.
Unfortunately, for CFL players, the workplace health and safety protections, which are standardized through workers’ compensation systems in every workplace in Canada, are currently not available to CFL players. Policy-makers have assumed that CFL players can use the court system to find remedies for injuries sustained playing football. However, the Canadian Football League took the position that our collective agreement is where injuries should be dealt with, knowing full well that our contract does not adequately provide for long-term rehabilitation and player safety standards.
A recent Supreme Court case in B.C. agreed with the team owners, creating a predicament that leaves CFL players in the untenable position of having to negotiate health and safety standards with our employer. When workers’ compensation laws were enacted almost a century ago, the changes were made to ensure that no worker would have to negotiate health and safety standards with their employer. We say professional football players are workers too and deserve to be included in the WCB protections available to all workers.
It’s with that principle in mind that our association has asked the panel reviewing Alberta’s WCB policies to extend WCB coverage to CFL players. Our argument to the panel is simple: it’s about fairness. In the absence of WCB coverage, injured players are easily cut from a team’s roster, leaving the public-health care system to provide the rehabilitation that team owners should be responsible for. That’s not fair to the players and certainly not fair to taxpayers who finance the public system.
This Labour Day, our members will be on the field, doing a job they love. And off the field, we are joining with others who share our view that workplace safety is a right that’s worth protecting.
Brian Ramsay is the executive director of the CFL Players’ Association.