Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not want to deter my colleagues in their enthusiasm for my presentation, which is, of course, always welcome.
As I was saying, there was a very interesting round table in Parkdale—High Park that the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles participated in. She gained a great deal of support from intern organizations and from youth and students in our community. They were very enthusiastic about Bill C-636. They talked about how the average level of student debt is about $28,000 on graduation. That is a huge burden for young people to be saddled with when they are just starting out in their working lives.
We know that persistently high youth unemployment in Canada, due to the lacklustre economic performance of our economy and the lack of clear policies and initiatives from the federal government, has been a serious burden and a challenge for young people in our society today. Many, in fact, are quite excited about and happy to take on internship programs and feel that they will help them get important experience as they begin their working lives, but they need some basic protections. They need some clear rules, and that is what Bill C-636 is all about.
I was very glad to hear my colleague across the aisle agree with the NDP that there should be a growing number of paid internships. We think that this is an important step forward, and we are glad to see that government members agree with us about the need for paid internships. However, we are very disappointed that they do not support an effective measure, which this bill is, to protect interns and set clear rules for them.
What are we talking about here? We are talking about basic protections in the workplace such as protection from sexual harassment and protection related to health and safety. We know that young workers are especially vulnerable to workplace accidents. They have a higher accident rate. Interns and young people just starting out are not even covered by basic health and safety legislation, and that needs to change.
They need reasonable hours of work. It is easy for young people who are hungry to get into the workforce to be exploited. What they need are clear hours of work, rest days, and recognition of statutory holidays.
We also need clear rules, which this bill lays out. The internship should be beneficial to the intern and not just to the employer. It needs to be educational and linked to the intern's program of study. The employer needs to inform the intern about the hours of work, the kinds of work he or she will be undertaking, and whether or not the intern will be paid. There should be record keeping of the hours they are working.
The reality is that because of the lack of federal rules, there has been exploitation of young workers. Often entry-level jobs, which in the past were paid, are being replaced by paid internships. The reality is that interns deserve the protections anyone would expect if they were paid, which many people are not.
Let me give a couple of examples. Last year, Bell Mobility was forced to close down an internship program after public scrutiny exposed that it had hosted more than 280 unpaid interns and had forced them to work overtime. These interns were essentially performing the work of paid employees and probably should have been paid. In fact, some of the interns are seeking back wages.
Another example that came to light is the terrible tragedy of a young man named Andy Ferguson, who, in 2011, as an unpaid intern at an Edmonton radio station, had been working long, back-to-back shifts. When he went home one night, he fell asleep at the wheel and was killed in a traffic accident.
The federal labour program investigation determined that he was not an employee and therefore not covered by the Canada Labour Code. That must change. We need to make sure that young people have basic workplace protections.
In March of last year, 2014, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance produced a report on youth employment in Canada. I was pleased to participate in that report. Recommendation no. 9 states:
That the federal government...work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections under relevant labour codes.
That is an important recommendation. That would include the Canada Labour Code.
The Canada Labour Code provides basic protections on things like hours of work, the right to refuse dangerous work, and freedom from sexual harassment in the workplace, but as of right now, these protections do not apply to unpaid interns.
Unlike many provinces, the federal government has no rules governing the use of unpaid internships to ensure that young Canadians are not exploited. This must change.
What New Democrats want is adequate protection for all workers, whether they are interns or paid workers. We want to limit the use of unpaid internships to those that are educational and of benefit to the interns so that they get something out of them and they really are a stepping stone to a career. We want active enforcement of updated labour laws, and we want Statistics Canada to track the use of unpaid internships. What we do not know about and are not measuring we cannot take action on.
This is a basic issue of intergenerational equity. As people who have already been active in the workforce, who have established their careers and track records, we need to make sure that the next generation of young people has the same opportunities and can use their educations, gain that foothold in the workplace, and get the kind of experience they need to have successful careers.
I would urge my colleagues across the aisle to reconsider their negativity on this issue of internships and to support Bill C-636. Let us do the job young people would expect us to do as their parliamentarians.