Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to support Bill C-636, which was introduced by my colleague from Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. As the youth critic, I have worked on this issue a lot over the past few years with her and with the member for Davenport, who is doing amazing work on this issue, such as in the case of the family of Andy Ferguson, a victim of the terrible working conditions that interns endure.
We need to take a step back. It is interesting to see that the government will not be supporting this bill despite the fact that it is in line with one of the recommendations in a report adopted by the Standing Committee on Finance. The report recommended updating working conditions for interns in federally regulated companies.
I would like to provide a bit of background. Last year, the Standing Committee on Finance met about 10 times to study youth unemployment. One of the meetings focused almost entirely on unpaid internships. Throughout the study, and during that meeting in particular, witnesses unanimously stated that things have to change. They recognized that under the right circumstances, unpaid internships can benefit young people starting their careers or in the middle of their studies who want to know more about a certain kind of workplace. However, everyone in the committee agreed that things have to change. Interns are not protected by the same laws as every other worker under the Canada Labour Code. That is a huge problem, especially in an economic climate where the youth unemployment rate is twice the national average and youth underemployment is becoming more widespread.
Youth unemployment is obviously very concerning to us, but youth underemployment, where young people are overqualified for the jobs they have, is more and more of a problem. A Statistics Canada report that came out at the same time as the study we were doing at the finance committee said that it was at levels that had never been seen before in Canada. This is really concerning. These internships are unfortunately proliferating more and more.
One of the examples that many witnesses brought forward during the study was that young people working internships should be an opportunity for them to get a foot in the door, but instead it was turning into an opportunity for certain companies to use young people as coffee runners and photo copiers, which we do not want to see. These internships need to be an opportunity for young people to get the experience necessary to help them in their pursuit for meaningful jobs later on.
Jobs are important and experience is valuable. Once again, this has to do with the issue of youth unemployment. Just look at TD Bank's 2013 annual report, which indicates that young people who are unemployed or working in jobs they are overqualified for have a very hard time making up for that lost income in subsequent years. This is known as wage scarring. I do not know the French equivalent; perhaps it is “cicatrisation des revenus”. This is a very serious problem. When young people are unemployed or working in jobs that are below their skill level, they lose income, which they have to try to make up for later. In other words, the consequences of unemployment and underemployment are felt for many years.
These situations create a vicious circle. Just look at what is happening in our communities: new businesses are opening, entrepreneurs are starting up businesses, schools are being created to provide jobs for teachers. This is true in my community, as it is in all communities. All of these things determine whether young families will come and settle in a community. Young people will have a hard time starting a family or buying a house if there are no jobs to give family members the tools needed to be consumers and active participants in the economy.
That creates a vicious circle, which has to start somewhere. Even though we are talking about a circle, there is still a starting point, and in this case, it is young people who work in unpaid internships. It is very important to point that out.
I find it interesting that some Conservative members are saying that the bill goes too far, when quite the opposite is true. Student groups and intern advocacy groups are saying that unpaid internships should basically be abolished. We compromised by recognizing the role that unpaid internships play in society, but we want there to be some protection.
It is therefore interesting to hear members say that we are going too far when we are prepared to recognize that unpaid internships do indeed have a role to play, as long as there is some kind of compensation in the form of a learning experience. That goes hand in hand with worker protection, which is something that these interns do not have right now.
When we look at the question of going too far and what has been said by the government, I go back to the report that came out of the finance committee. This is a report on which all committee members agreed. One of the recommendations specifically said that something needed to change. The government members agreed to this.
In a 10-minute speech it is difficult to go back over all not only the witness testimony, but what some government members had to say. Many Conservative members of Parliament on that committee said that this concerned them. It concerned them when they thought of their kids or grandkids.
We know the willingness is there. It is unfortunate that we hear all these nice things, like the Conservative members congratulating my colleague for bringing this bill forward, that they know it is an issue, but that they will vote against it. This just does not make sense, particularly in the context, as I have said several times in my speech, where we have been willing to reach across the aisle and take a few steps backwards, not going as far as some folks might think we need to go, and a willingness to say that we should get this first good step done and at least get the minimum protections for people who work in this environment of unpaid internships, where they do not have those basic protections to which all workers are entitled.
I go back to the example of tragic story of Andy Ferguson, a 22-year-old who died because he was taken advantage of in the context of his workplace.
Some members might ask why these folks do not say no, and that is the danger. That is why so many members are talking about the youth unemployment and underemployment, because in this desperate context that exists, where young people want to get that work and want to get that foot in the door, they are willing to do whatever it takes.
It is all to their credit, but that is where the door opens to abuse. That is why we as legislators have to take that responsibility in hand to ensure this abuse does not happen, that young people are not taken advantage of when they do whatever it takes to eventually get, not even in the context of an internship but using it as a tool, a good paying job in the economic times in which we live.
This clearly shows that when members talk about youth unemployment, it is directly related to unpaid internships and the work environment because young people will not say no. They will take whatever they can get, and as I said, it is all to their credit. They are prepared to work and do what it takes to get a good job and at least get a start on their careers.
I am repeating myself, but as legislators, we have the fundamental responsibility of ensuring their basic safety and protection. After all, that is the primary mandate of any government.
The Conservative members made this recommendation at the Standing Committee on Finance, where they worked with us to make a change.
Why then are they not supporting my colleague's bill? It would be a step in the right direction in that it would at least provide some protection for our young people, the next generation, who just want to work and get good experience so that they can fully contribute to our economy. I think that is extremely important.
I am very pleased to support my colleague's bill. There is still a bit of time left before the vote. I hope that the Conservative members will remember what they said at the Standing Committee on Finance and that they will see the light.