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.