Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo MP Cathy McLeod spoke in Parliament this week on the Intern Protection Act. Here’s an excerpt.
IN THE HOUSE — Safe, fair, and productive workplaces are essential for creating jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity. To that end, paid and unpaid internships allow students, recent graduates, new Canadians, and those transitioning to new careers to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to find good jobs.
Whether paid or unpaid, internships are seen as an important way to improve employment prospects and outcomes. In fact, in November 2014, an Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada survey found that four out of five employers think that “…internship students add value to their company as a source of new talent and as future employees with workplace skills”.
The issue of unpaid internships is an important one, and I would like to address some of the concerns raised by the honorable member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles in her private member’s bill, Bill C-636.
To begin, I would like to say that we certainly agree with the bill’s intent. Protecting interns in the federal jurisdiction is a worthy objective, but the bill does raise concerns.
In my previous role as the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Labour, I had the opportunity to go across the country. I consulted broadly with student groups and unions from coast to coast to coast. That added a lens to this conversation that I think is very important. Certainly it had
the support of the government in terms of that process. However, there are some issues that truly are not dealt with in the bill that are of significant concern.
Every year, thousands of people, whether students, recent graduates, new Canadians, or people looking to make a career change, pursue internships to acquire the experience they need to find good jobs. I think we have recognized the issue around the actual data. There are some gaps, but there is currently an estimate of between 100,000 and 300,000 interns.
Internships can be a good transition from school to work, but we need to be alert to their unintended consequences. Again, as I mentioned, the bill is well intentioned, but it has serious weaknesses that really make it unrealistic in terms of us supporting it.
For example, the bill as written would allow employers to offer unpaid training but only if the training had been previously approved as part of a secondary, post-secondary, or vocational degree or diploma program.
As I went across the country, I heard from many people who were not in that situation but had spent a month or a couple of weeks as interns, and it was their pathway into employment. To arbitrarily cut off those new Canadians and people looking at making a transition from those opportunities truly does not make much sense. This means that unpaid internships would not be
available to individuals who were not enrolled in educational training programs, which could have a significant and negative impact.
In addition, the bill would extend labour standard protections to all interns, except for minimum wage, in some cases. What we heard from employers is that this does not make sense, because what they are talking about is unpaid overtime, holiday pay, and paid annual vacations. There are
a lot of wage-related provisions that would be impossible for employers to apply to a person not receiving a wage. Again, it is reflective of some concerns in terms of the structure of the bill.
Also, the bill does not actually explain what it means by training, and it would not give the government any regulatory authority to do so. I think that is a critically important piece: what is training, and how would we create regulations around it?
Therefore, the term training is ambiguous and open to interpretation and could lead to unintended consequences. For example, there could be a loophole that would allow unscrupulous employers
to stop paying regular employees who are undergoing work-related training of a similar nature.
We need to ensure that rights and responsibilities related to interns are appropriate and that they are clear and understood by employers, educational institutions and interns.
We believe Bill C-636 would go too far and would discourage employers from offering legitimate, meaningful unpaid internships that would meet the diverse learning needs of interns.
For this reason and others I have outlined today, we cannot support the bill.