Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to address the proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code put forward by the hon. member.
We are here today to discuss protection for interns in the workplace. Let me start by saying that this government fully recognizes that safe, fair and productive workplaces are essential for creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity. We have held true to these priorities over the years. We have made sure that the employment of young Canadians has been a driving force behind new measures that we have introduced and behind our support for successful existing programs.
Clearly, we know how important it is to help young Canadians participate in the workforce. That is why economic action plan 2014 included $40 million to support 3,000 paid internships between 2014 and 2016. The funding will be delivered through the NRC's industrial research assistance program, specifically its youth employment program through ESDC's youth employment strategy.
It is also why we provide a range of other programs to help young Canadians succeed. For example, our government invests over $10 billion every year to support post-secondary education, including financial assistance through Canada student loans and grants, and programs for first nations and Inuit students.
I mentioned the youth employment strategy. In total, we invest over $330 million each year to help youth develop work skills and receive real life experience that aligns with evolving realities of the current job market. We are committed to helping young Canadians age 15 to 30 get career information and the skills they need to get good jobs and to stay employed.
Eleven government departments, agencies, partners and communities deliver this initiative. It provides small and medium-size enterprises with the financial assistance they need to hire highly skilled post-secondary graduates. Internships allow post-secondary graduates to gain valuable on-the-job experience.
In 2012, the youth employment strategy helped to connect 60,000 Canadian youth with the work experience and skills training needed to succeed in the job market.
We also provide support dedicated to apprentices, such as the apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, and the new Canadian apprenticeship loan which we announced in January of this year.
Apprentices and designated Red Seal trades can apply for up to $4,000 in interest-free loans per period of technical training. For many, this money could mean the difference between completing their training or not completing it at all. Apprentices can use it to pay for tuition, tools or equipment, or to help support their families while they complete their programs.
For thousands of young Canadians who choose a different path, paid and unpaid internships allow them to acquire on-the-job experience in many different fields, the experience they need to find jobs and the experience they need to participate actively in our economy. We want to ensure that they are protected in the workplace and that these legal protections are clearly spelled out. On behalf of these thousands of young people working hard to build their futures, I do not think it is too much to ask that we have clear rules to protect all workers, including interns. At the same time, we do not want to put measures in place that would discourage employers from offering short-term paid and unpaid internships to help young people get important job experience. We need employers to have skin in the game. We need to find this middle ground.
In our view, the bill before us goes too far. It discourages employers from offering legitimate and meaningful opportunities, and for this reason we will be opposing it.
One of the shortcomings of Bill C-636 is that it would only permit internships for secondary, post-secondary and vocational students who are doing internships as part of their degree or their diploma program. It would exclude other individuals, such as recent graduates, new Canadians and those transitioning to new careers who are not enrolled in specific education programs that would require them to have an internship.
We have to remember that internships in Canada represent many different things, from co-op work to field placements, to practicums, to school-to-work transition programs, all of which provide short-term workplace-based learning.
Any amendment to the Canada Labour Code should take into account the different ways that internships work in different parts of the country, in different sectors of the economy. Also, Bill C-636 would extend labour standard protections to all interns, except for minimum wage in some cases. Part III of the code covers issues such as paid overtime and paid holidays, which obviously would apply only to interns receiving wages but not to unpaid interns. We can see how this can be confusing when it comes to employers' obligations to interns and interns' expectations of employers in the workplace.
Also, the bill does not define key terms such as “training”, or provide legislative power to do so. This could have the unintended consequence, for example, of making it easier for employers to withhold pay from employees involved in some forms of workplace training.
I am sure we can all agree on one thing: internships, whether paid or unpaid, are of great value to the young people who are participating in them, to the employers who have the opportunity to have interns in the workplace and to the overall economy.
We certainly appreciate the intent behind Bill C-636, however, we believe this is not the right bill to achieve our collective goals of protecting interns. We believe that a more comprehensive approach will be needed.
On this side of the House we want to ensure that young Canadians continue to have access to on-the-job training through internships. We do not want to take away any opportunity for our young people to hone their skills and broaden their experience in the workplace. In fact, I am sure that many of us know young constituents who are getting the much needed on-the-job training through an internship with a local business. Interns, both paid and unpaid, deserve occupational health and safety protections and appropriate labour standards.
I must ask my fellow members to keep in mind that interns are not always students. There are other groups who benefit immensely from these opportunities. For example, interns can include people returning to the labour market after a period of absence, recent immigrants who seek to gain essential Canadian workplace experience which they may not have received in their previous country. New Canadians, recent graduates and others considering a career change who are not enrolled in specific educational programs should not be left out of the game, but Bill C-636 would prevent employers from offering legitimate, meaningful learning experience to some of these people.
These are only a few of the things we need to consider in deciding how best to support interns in the workplace. With this in mind, earlier this year, we held consultations with stakeholders across the country to better understand how we could help interns get the most out of their placements. What my colleague, the former parliamentary secretary heard when she conducted these consultations very ably, was information that will help inform the legislation we intend to introduce, legislation that will better protect interns in the federal jurisdiction and clarify workplace rights and responsibilities for interns, employers and institutions.
We have made it a priority to provide Canadians with the workplace experience and skills they need to find jobs in high-demand fields and succeed in the job market. Bill C-636 simply does not meet this challenge.
For the reasons I have outlined, I would urge my colleagues to oppose the bill.