Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on this important issue.
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 hon. 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.
Again, it is the government's responsibility to support safe, fair, and productive workplaces. We support our interns, both paid and unpaid, who participate in short-term workplace-related learning experiences that can help transition them to employment. The employer has a fundamental responsibility to provide a healthy and safe workplace.
According to the Canada Labour Code, employers are obliged to inform anyone granted access to a workplace of any known or foreseeable hazards, and provide them with the necessary protective equipment and train them how to use it. As parliamentarians, if we go into a mill in our riding, we are all aware that we have an introduction to safety equipment. Even for casual visitors to some of these work sites, employers have important obligations to anyone who enters their work site.
If an intern contacts the labour program to file complaints, the labour program takes the necessary steps to ensure that the health and safety of everyone in the workplace is protected. Currently, standards under the Canada Labour Code apply if it is established that an employment relationship exists. If an employment relationship exists, the individual, including an intern, is entitled to full labour standard protections.
For example, unpaid interns can contact the Labour Department to file a complaint alleging that an employment relationship exists and that they are owed wages, including wages for any overtime worked.
Our government is committed to doing more to help those who are traditionally under-represented in the workforce, such as youth, to get the job training they require. We are delivering on that promise.
Economic action plan 2014 included $40 million to support 3,000 paid internships between 2014 and 2016. In the riding I represent there has been a number of interns supported in that way. I also know there are many programs out there. Many of us probably have daughters or sons of colleagues and friends who are supported through some of the work placements that are arranged through the universities. Therefore, there is a good number of very important opportunities.
Every year our government invests over $10 billion to support post-secondary education, including financial assistance through Canada student loans and grants, and programs for first nations and Inuit students. We invest over $330 million in the youth employment strategy each year to help youth develop work skills and receive real life work experience that are aligned with the evolving realities of the job market.
Locally, I met with a group of young adults who were in that program, the youth employment strategy, and they were saying yes, because they were finding enormous benefits in not only what they were learning, but the actual practical support they were getting in workplaces.
We provide support dedicated to apprentices, like the apprenticeship incentive and completion grants, and the new Canada apprentice loan we announced in January 2015.
Internships also play an important role. They are a good way to provide important short-term workplace-based learning experiences and support successful transitions from school to work, or, as we mentioned earlier, transition from career to career, which still has some serious flaws in recognizing a more wide importance of the internship concept.
As we have talked about, I held consultations across the country with stakeholders to ensure that we understood the environment in which interns were working. What we heard will help us with the policies that take into consideration all of the necessary factors to protect interns in federal jurisdictions.
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.
To this end, we have the intention of moving forward to address concerns and protect the interests of unpaid interns in a meaningful way.
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. We urge our fellow members to vote against it, although I do want to commend our colleague across the floor for the conversation she has engaged in with the bill, because the intentions are admirable.