Intern Protection Act

An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training)

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.


Laurin Liu  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)


Defeated, as of April 22, 2015
(This bill did not become law.)


This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the definition “employee” in Parts II and III of the Canada Labour Code to include persons receiving training with or without remuneration and specifies the conditions under which training without remuneration is permitted.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.


April 22, 2015 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 5:55 p.m.
See context


Scott Brison Liberal Kings—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to speak to Bill C-636, which seeks to clarify the law regarding unpaid internships.

I would like to begin by thanking my colleague, the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, for introducing this bill and giving us a chance to discuss the issue of unpaid interns.

Too many Canadians, particularly young Canadians, are caught in a vicious cycle of not being able to get a job because they do not have work experience and are not able to get work experience because they do not have a job. It is that catch-22 that we are hearing more and more about in our communities and our own families.

At the same time, many areas of Canada do not appear to have clear laws regarding unpaid internships. This legal ambiguity, combined with a weak labour market for young Canadians, places unpaid interns in a vulnerable position. The concern is that in many cases employers are using this ambiguity as a loophole around minimum wage laws.

More and more vulnerable Canadians are forced to accept unpaid work simply in order to gain work experience. The situation facing unpaid interns appears to have gotten worse since the recent financial crisis, because young Canadians are finding it harder to land their first job in their field of study.

I say that it appears to have grown since the financial crisis, because we do not know how many unpaid interns there are in Canada and we cannot manage what we do not measure, as the saying goes.

Unpaid interns are not included in the labour force survey. They are not counted as employees because they do not receive a wage. They do not count as unemployed unless they are available and actively seeking work, which they cannot do if they are already committed to a full-time internship. Therefore, we do not have good data on unpaid internships.

We do not know exactly where unpaid interns are working. We do not know if there are more of them in certain provinces or industries, but we do know that young Canadians are facing a huge unemployment rate.

Statistics Canada recently revised its employment data going back to 2001. The revised numbers reveal a number of problems with the job market, particularly for young Canadians. The fact is that young Canadians face huge challenges in today's workforce.

For example, compared to before the downturn, more Canadians now fall into the category of the long-term unemployed, those who have been unemployed for over a year. The number of Canadians who do not have a job and have been actively seeking and searching for work for at least a year is twice that of 2008.

The situation is worse for young Canadians. The percentage of young Canadians with paying jobs has fallen from 60% to 56%. There are 160,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians today than in 2008. There are now three times as many unemployed young Canadians who have been looking for work for over a year.

Young Canadians and the long-term unemployed are desperate for new work experiences, which makes them vulnerable to being pressured into unpaid work.

Last June, the Standing Committee on Finance released a report on youth employment in Canada. As part of our study, we heard testimony on the issue of unpaid internships.

I wish to thank Claire Seaborn and her colleagues with the Canadian Intern Association for their extraordinary contribution to public information on this problem.

At committee, we heard from both employers and prospective employees about the need to clarify the law, particularly when it comes to student placements that are part of an academic program. Witnesses told the committee that we should look to British Columbia and Ontario as provinces that have best practices in terms of providing clarity on the definition of what is an acceptable internship, what is an exploitative internship, and protection for Canadians.

For example, in Ontario, an intern is considered an employee and is entitled to minimum wage unless all of the following six conditions are met: one, the training is similar to that given in a vocational school; two, the training is for the benefit of the intern, who receives some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills; three, the employer derives little if any benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained; four, the training does not take somebody else's job; five, the employer is not promising a job at the end of the training; and six, the intern has been told he or she will not be paid for his or her time.

After hearing the evidence, the finance committee recommended the following:

That the federal government collect data on unpaid internships in Canada and work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections [are taken] under relevant labour codes. Moreover, the government should study the impacts of unpaid internships.

Unfortunately, we have not seen any progress from the government since then. It has not directed Statistics Canada to start collecting data on unpaid internships.

We have heard from some organizations, and the Canadian Federation of Students I think said that there were 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada, and we know anecdotally that the numbers have grown. We know from our own families and communities and a number of colleagues and friends whose children are working as unpaid interns. However, we do not actually have good data on this. Therefore, number one, we need to have Statistics Canada measure the number of unpaid interns on an ongoing basis, so that we understand the scale of the problem.

Bill C-636 appears to emulate many of the conditions set out by the Province of Ontario, which is something that, on the surface, we would support. However, we do have some concerns.

The Liberals were the first party to call for greater protection of unpaid interns, but this is something that the New Democrats have also been raising. We recognize that the federal labour law system is complex. It is built on a delicate balance between the interests of labour and management. We also recognize the potential for unintended consequences when we are changing the Canada Labour Code and labour laws of the country through private members' bills. This is something that is always a concern, and it is unfortunate that the government does not move forward with something in terms of a government bill.

One concern we hear over and over again is that young Canadians are desperate for work experience. While there is a greater need for protection, it is critical that we do not regulate away legitimate programs that help vulnerable young Canadians enter the job market. There is a risk that clause 4 of Bill C-636 might in fact do that. For example, there are risks of excluding programs run by community groups to help vulnerable Canadians gain work experience, and not all these programs are linked to an academic program.

During the current Parliament, a number of MPs on the opposition side have expressed concerns about amending the Canada Labour Code through a private member's bill. I would like to quote the member for Trois-Rivières who said:

As far as I know, changes to labour relations legislation have never been introduced via a private member's bill....

In the past, changes to the Canada Labour Code have come about following discussions between employers and workers, not when an MP stands up to say that he has made the discovery of the century.

Therefore, when it comes to amending complex laws, a government bill is generally preferable, because under the rules of the House, it is subject to greater debate and analysis in Parliament.

That being the case, I will be supporting the bill before us because I think it is an important debate. It is one that we should have as a Parliament. We should at least let the bill move forward so that we can dig deeper into this issue and ultimately provide the government with more pressure to actually take action in addressing this important issue of unpaid internships in Canada, which reflects the general malaise we have for youth employment in this country.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 6:05 p.m.
See context


Andrew Cash NDP Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to speak on this very important bill, Bill C-636, the intern protection act.

It is important to say at the outset that all workers deserve workplace protection and that they deserve to be paid for the work they do. However, today we are seeing more and more young people working for free as unpaid interns.

Let us put this into some context. Youth unemployment is twice the national average. Young people are carrying unprecedented student debt. At the same time, young people are finding it more and more difficult to find entry level positions in the field for which they trained. Entry level positions are increasingly becoming unpaid positions.

It is one thing for a young person to not be paid. It is another thing if they do not even have the same rights and protections as employees, because unpaid interns are not part of the definition of an employee in the Canada Labour Code. This bill, the intern protection act, would change that.

What members of the House must really ask themselves tonight is whether they think it is fair and fine that an unpaid intern does not have the same rights to workplace health and safety protections as other workers. Is it fair and right that an unpaid intern does not have the same protection as other workers from sexual harassment in the workplace? Is it fair and acceptable that unpaid workers, most of whom are young workers, women, racialized, and immigrant, do not have the same rights as other workers to refuse unsafe work, to be trained how to handle unsafe work, or to have a cap on the number of hours they work?

Finally, is it acceptable that so many of our young workers are being forced to work for free, delaying their own ability to launch as independent adults? They are held back from becoming fully contributing members of our economy and society. As a consequence, many of these workers are also delaying moving out of their parents' home, starting families, and buying their first home.

Today, I stand here in this place on the 26th birthday of Andy Ferguson, a young Albertan who, after working two back-to-back extended shifts, was killed in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel on his way home in the early hours of the morning. Mr. Ferguson's brother reached out to me, and we talked on several occasions about how we could turn this tragedy into a bill that would help young workers right across the country who are in a cycle of unpaid work that they have no control over, no agency in, and no protection from.

This bill would be a historic bill that would extend the same workplace protections that all workers expect to have, and most do under the Canada Labour Code. However, unpaid interns do not have them, because they are not included in the definition of what an employee is.

It is important for the government members tonight to realize that the Brad Wall government of Saskatchewan announced new rules prohibiting the use of non-educational unpaid interns. The labour minister, Don Morgan, said:

We’ve said, interns, you’re going to get paid. Ones that would not get paid would be a student learner, where it’s part of their course....

The finance committee did a study on youth employment, starting in March 2014. Among the recommendations, recommendation 9 was to tighten the rules around unpaid interns to bring them greater protections.

As many have pointed out tonight, there may be upward of 300,000 people working as unpaid interns in the Canadian economy.

As well, it is important to clarify tonight that we are talking about interns in federally regulated sectors, including telecommunications, broadcasting, banking, financial, transportation and crown corporations.

In the bill we ask for the same rights and protections that other workers have. Is it fair that all workers get the same rights in a workplace protected under the Canada Labour Code? That is not what is happening. It is really up to us to change that, to make it right.

I look at the members in the House, and I know many of them have adult children and many of them have constituents for whom this is a burning issue. How, in our economy, can we expect young people to work for free?

Many would like to conflate or blur the issue around good internships and important training opportunities for young people. We have seen and heard the stories of quite profitable, powerful private companies, corporations, public companies availing themselves of free labour in this current economic situation in which young people find themselves.

The bill would ensure that internships would be for educational purposes, that they would be the primary benefit of the intern and that they would not replace paid employees. Some will say that means they will not have an opportunity.

We are saying that we need to ensure, especially in companies that can afford to pay young workers, these unpaid internship entry-level positions should be paid positions, as they have been for generations upon generations. I do not think anyone in this place would disagree with the fairness of that.

We know there are many well-run internship programs. Some of my colleagues tonight have referenced some of them. However, we also know that there is abuse in the system. We need to step in as a responsible Parliament and take a look at the things we can do to protect young workers, to encourage the economy to invest in young workers and to stabilize the economy for young workers.

This is an important step in the right direction to see that all workers, all young people, have the same protections as everybody else in the economy and that they get paid. If we are building an economy where we increasingly are encouraging a system and an economy where young people are forced to work for free, we are not doing what we need to do to shrink the income inequality gap and we are gaming the system for those who have the opportunities and the capacity to spend sometimes several years working for free, while others cannot afford that same opportunity.

We need to look at ways in which we can ensure that as many young people as possible can gain access to the economy, can have safety and the knowledge that they are protected in their workplace, to have that agency. We have heard stories and seen examples where that just simply is not the case.

In honour of the memory of Andy Ferguson and the good work his family has done to try to bring this issue to the fore, I urge all my colleagues in the House to really take a look at the bill and to ask themselves whether the way we have set this table for young workers is fair. I am sure when they ask that question in an honest way, they will discover that indeed unpaid interns deserve the same protections and the same rights as employees under the Labour Code.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 6:15 p.m.
See context


Patricia Davidson Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak to the issue of internships in Canada. As we have heard already this evening, there are many examples of the good work that is being done through internships, and we must protect that the best we can.

The government certainly remains focused on jobs, economic growth and prosperity for all Canadians. As we have heard over and over tonight, internships play an essential role in helping to meet this goal. They help Canadians develop the knowledge and skills they need to participate in the job market and to fill possible labour shortages.

We also believe that providing certain protections for interns is vitally important, especially given that it is estimated that there are several hundred thousand interns in Canadian workplaces. What we need to carefully consider is how we go about it.

Many interns are working toward degrees or diplomas through secondary or post-secondary educational institutions. Other interns include recent immigrants looking for meaningful Canadian job experiences, people re-entering the workforce or looking to make a career transition.

Our government has been saying for some time now that we want to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to the on-the-job training they need. Internships are a very important part of that training. The hands-on experience that interns gain is invaluable. The benefit to them cannot be overstated. This is why we are investing $40 million to support up to 3,000 paid internships in these high demand fields and $15 million annually to support up to 1,000 paid internships in small and medium-sized enterprises.

In addition to that, our government every year invests over $10 billion to support post-secondary education and programs for first nations and Inuit students. This includes financial assistance through Canada's student loans and grants. We have seen great success through these initiatives.

However, this is not all we are doing to support young workers. We are also working to better protect them in the workplace.

The government is working with our partners to promote safe, fair and productive workplaces for youth, including interns. For example, and this has been alluded to in some of the previous speeches, at the end of January my colleague, the member for Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, the former parliamentary secretary to the minister of labour, met with stakeholders from across Canada and across industries to gain a deeper understanding of how we could better support interns. At the last meeting of the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of labour this past September, our Minister of Labour, the member for Simcoe—Grey, and her colleagues agreed to keep on working closely to better protect youth in the workplace and to use new approaches to connect with them.

One example is by going out to places like colleges, universities and high schools with interactive presentations and one-on-one discussions to ensure students have the knowledge and the resources they need to stay safe on the job. Also, the popular “It's Your Job” video contest challenges high school students across Canada to create videos to educate other young people on the importance of workplace safety and their rights.

However, it is not just physical safety with which our government is concerned. More and more we are also learning that mental injury, while invisible, is just as real and serious as physical injury and effects all aspects of an individual's life, at home and in the workplace. In fact, it is estimated that up to 20,000 of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder.

The mental health and well-being of Canadians is very important to our government. That is why, with support from the federal government, the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched the national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace in 2013. It is also why the minister and parliamentary secretary met and consulted with federally regulated employers, provincial workers, compensation boards and mental health organizations to discuss improving mental health in the workplace.

It is clear that we fully support initiatives that protect our workers, including young people.

Let us take a look at the bill that is being proposed today. It would place restrictions on prospective unpaid interns since employers could no longer be able to offer an unpaid internship to anyone other than secondary, post-secondary, or vocational students who were receiving training as part of their degree or diploma programs.

The bill also does not define what is meant by training or provide a regulatory power to do so. There could be a risk of confusion among employers on what constitutes training and could create unintended consequences. For example, this could make it easier for employers to withhold pay for their existing employees who were involved in workplace training.

What is also unclear is the bill's intention to extend labour standard protections to all interns, except for minimum wage in some cases. That could mean that labour standards like paid overtime and paid holidays could apply to both paid and unpaid interns. It is important to our government that we are clear about how interns are protected in our workplaces.

Our government is committed to ensuring safe, fair and productive workplaces. We have made it a priority to provide Canadians with the workplace experience and skills necessary to find jobs and succeed in the job market. The government is committed to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, and we will continue to work hard to support all Canadian workers.

As has been stated many times tonight, we know there are good intentions in the bill. We know that there are also questions that need to be answered. We do not want to be creating unintended consequences that will not be beneficial for interns and young people. Therefore, we will continue to follow this closely as it continues on through the process.

Intern Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

February 17th, 2015 / 6:25 p.m.
See context


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say in the strongest possible terms how pleased I am and how strongly I support the bill introduced by my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

In my judgment, this is a long overdue bill. It is really quite shocking to think we have none of the standards in the Canada Labour Code to deal with interns, even though jurisdictions like Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia all have rules of varying kinds to address the problems that this bill would address.

There are some good internship programs, and they have been discussed, but there are some abuses that need to be addressed. We have heard about the sad fate of Mr. Andy Ferguson who, working back-to-back shifts at an Edmonton radio station, was in a car accident after falling asleep. Perhaps if members of the House rose together as one to support this initiative, we might actually call this the Andy Ferguson bill, today being his birthday.

It seems to me this is something that many people in my constituency have told me needs to be addressed. We do not have statistics, but, intuitively, we all know there are a lot more unpaid internships out there. People ask me how this can be and how they can get a rung on the ladder to obtain employment if we do not address these problems.

I know I only have a couple of minutes and cannot, therefore, go through the bill in any detail, except to say that I was pleased to be part of the finance committee, which, in March of 2014, reported on youth employment. Recommendation 9 said:

That the federal government collect data on unpaid internships in Canada and work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections under relevant labour codes.

This is entirely within the spirit of the recommendations of that unanimous report. Therefore, I believe it is incumbent on the House to send this to committee where some of the deficiencies that no doubt exist can be addressed.

My colleague across the way talked about the lack of definition of training. That is a simple thing to rectify if members, in good faith, would sit down and try to figure out how to make this law work. If it can be done at the provincial level, there are almost a million people in the federally regulated private sector that would be covered by this. It seems to me it is appropriate that we address that part of the workforce, unpaid interns, to ensure they have protections of the kind we take for granted in other jurisdictions.

There is a gap in the federal law. This bill would address it. It can be dealt with effectively at committee. I suggest that we get on with it and work together across the House to figure out how to make this a reality for young Canadian workers.

Intern Protection ActRoutine Proceedings

November 25th, 2014 / 10:05 a.m.
See context


Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-620, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training).

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be introducing the intern protection act.

After consulting with experts and stakeholders, we made some changes to this bill. I would like to thank the family of Andy Ferguson for their help in developing this bill.

Basically, this bill would ensure that paid positions cannot be turned into unpaid internships. The bill will also offer basic protections for unpaid interns, such as protection against sexual harassment, protection of hours of work and protection against dangerous work.

I encourage all of my colleagues to support this bill, which is urgently needed and very important for our young workers.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)