Mr. Chair and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
My remarks are focused on concerns that the Canada student service grant raises regarding potential volunteer misclassification and the exploitation of students and recent graduates. I also want to speak about how this program can be salvaged. These are concerns that strike at the core of the program rather than the question of by whom it is administered.
Before I begin, I want to briefly introduce myself and my experiences with these issues.
My name is Josh Mandryk. I'm a labour and class actions lawyer at Goldblatt Partners. My class actions practice is focused exclusively on employment class actions involving wage theft, unpaid overtime and other issues of non-compliance with employment standards legislation. Many of these cases are national class actions, and a number of these cases involve claims of the misclassification of employees, whether it be as independent contractors, student athletes, interns or volunteers.
Prior to my time as a lawyer at the firm, I was actively involved in the fight for the rights of interns and other student workers, first as the co-chair of an organization called Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, and then later as the executive director of the Canadian Intern Association.
My engagement with issues regarding volunteer misclassification has continued into my work as a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners, including by launching what I believe to be the first volunteer misclassification class action in Canada.
It's with that background that I come to you to share my concerns with respect to the Canada student service grant. In particular, the program raises concerns with respect to potential employee misclassification for participants, for charities and NGOs, and for the government itself.
First, the program potentially exposes its participants to workplace exploitation and misclassification. The question of whether someone is a true volunteer is a legal determination that rests on more than simply whether the hiring entity says they're a volunteer. This program raises legitimate concerns as to whether these individuals are true volunteers.
Second, this arrangement potentially exposes charities and not-for-profit organizations to potential liability for wage and hour claims, whether it be through employment standards complaints, small claims court actions or even potential class actions brought by the so-called volunteers participating in the program.
Finally, the Government of Canada itself could potentially find itself entangled in these legal disputes either as an alleged common employer or as an alleged labour supply agency, given its role as paymaster and given its role in connecting volunteers with placements through the I Want to Help portal.
Aside from those legal concerns, the Canada student service grant also raises concerns about fairness and about the type of support the government should provide for students and recent graduates. These concerns include the following.
First, the rate of pay provided through the program is significantly less than minimum wage under the applicable employment standards legislation, and setting aside the legality of that arrangement, it raises fairness concerns and it sends a message that the government doesn't value these workers' labour.
Second, mandatory volunteer placements are far inferior to paid employment in terms of the doors they open and in terms of what that work experience means for a young worker on their resumé. To the extent that one of the goals of this program is to support students and recent graduates in their career paths by ensuring they have meaningful summer work experiences, the program as structured fails to deliver.
Jumping to my fourth concern, the program is seemingly at odds with the government's own efforts to crack down on the exploitation of workers through unpaid internships, including the standards for work-integrated learning activities regulations that are set to come into force in September 2020.