03/19/2015 09:17 EDT | Updated 05/19/2015 05:59 EDT

Canadian Hockey League taking advantage of junior players, says Unifor President

A controversy over fast-expiring scholarships has critics of the Canadian Hockey League once again asking for better compensation for its more than 1,500 junior players.

A group of well-known NHL agents has been calling on the CHL to extend the sunset clause on scholarships earned by players. Currently, they expire only 18 months after players leave the league.

The scholarship standoff has renewed calls from Union for Canada (Unifor) national president Jerry Dias for CHL teams to pay their players. 

"These are for-profit companies whose business model is based on free labour, which is a real shame in today's environment," Dias told CBC Radio One's The Early Edition. 

"[The CHL bosses] surround themselves with some pretty high-priced lawyers, they make the rules, there's no collective agreement and they can change the rules as arbitrarily as they see fit."

Amateur athletes or employees?

Dias points to the sale of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Quebec Remparts — a reported $20-25 million deal — and the OHL's London Knights, who sell out their arena on a regular basis, as evidence the league is making a lot of money. 

But Western Hockey League commissioner Ron Robison says junior hockey players are treated well and supported by owners who want nothing but the best for their athletes.

"​We are part of the amateur sports system in Canada and the players are not employees, they're amateur athletes," he said.

"We believe that the players are fully reimbursed for all of their training, education, competitive expenses while playing across the Canadian Hockey League."

Players between the ages of 16 and 19 are reported to earn about $250 per month in the WHL, while 20-year-old players are thought to make about $600 on a monthly basis.

But Dias says that rate changes from team to team with some players in the OHL making as little as $140 per month. 

"The people who clean the ice are employees and are paid at least minimum wage, people who clean the bathrooms are employees, people who coach the team are employees, the concession stands [workers] are employees, and yet the people who produce the product on the ice aren't employees," he said. 

"Does that make sense to anybody? There has to be an agreement in place where we treat people fairly."

Dias said he and Unifor have been in discussions with the Ontario provincial government about the possibility of a taskforce to analyze the treatment of junior hockey players in the CHL.