Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise in this place on behalf of the good people of Davenport in the great city of Toronto to speak on this very important bill, Bill C-636, the intern protection act.
It is important to say at the outset that all workers deserve workplace protection and that they deserve to be paid for the work they do. However, today we are seeing more and more young people working for free as unpaid interns.
Let us put this into some context. Youth unemployment is twice the national average. Young people are carrying unprecedented student debt. At the same time, young people are finding it more and more difficult to find entry level positions in the field for which they trained. Entry level positions are increasingly becoming unpaid positions.
It is one thing for a young person to not be paid. It is another thing if they do not even have the same rights and protections as employees, because unpaid interns are not part of the definition of an employee in the Canada Labour Code. This bill, the intern protection act, would change that.
What members of the House must really ask themselves tonight is whether they think it is fair and fine that an unpaid intern does not have the same rights to workplace health and safety protections as other workers. Is it fair and right that an unpaid intern does not have the same protection as other workers from sexual harassment in the workplace? Is it fair and acceptable that unpaid workers, most of whom are young workers, women, racialized, and immigrant, do not have the same rights as other workers to refuse unsafe work, to be trained how to handle unsafe work, or to have a cap on the number of hours they work?
Finally, is it acceptable that so many of our young workers are being forced to work for free, delaying their own ability to launch as independent adults? They are held back from becoming fully contributing members of our economy and society. As a consequence, many of these workers are also delaying moving out of their parents' home, starting families, and buying their first home.
Today, I stand here in this place on the 26th birthday of Andy Ferguson, a young Albertan who, after working two back-to-back extended shifts, was killed in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel on his way home in the early hours of the morning. Mr. Ferguson's brother reached out to me, and we talked on several occasions about how we could turn this tragedy into a bill that would help young workers right across the country who are in a cycle of unpaid work that they have no control over, no agency in, and no protection from.
This bill would be a historic bill that would extend the same workplace protections that all workers expect to have, and most do under the Canada Labour Code. However, unpaid interns do not have them, because they are not included in the definition of what an employee is.
It is important for the government members tonight to realize that the Brad Wall government of Saskatchewan announced new rules prohibiting the use of non-educational unpaid interns. The labour minister, Don Morgan, said:
We’ve said, interns, you’re going to get paid. Ones that would not get paid would be a student learner, where it’s part of their course....
The finance committee did a study on youth employment, starting in March 2014. Among the recommendations, recommendation 9 was to tighten the rules around unpaid interns to bring them greater protections.
As many have pointed out tonight, there may be upward of 300,000 people working as unpaid interns in the Canadian economy.
As well, it is important to clarify tonight that we are talking about interns in federally regulated sectors, including telecommunications, broadcasting, banking, financial, transportation and crown corporations.
In the bill we ask for the same rights and protections that other workers have. Is it fair that all workers get the same rights in a workplace protected under the Canada Labour Code? That is not what is happening. It is really up to us to change that, to make it right.
I look at the members in the House, and I know many of them have adult children and many of them have constituents for whom this is a burning issue. How, in our economy, can we expect young people to work for free?
Many would like to conflate or blur the issue around good internships and important training opportunities for young people. We have seen and heard the stories of quite profitable, powerful private companies, corporations, public companies availing themselves of free labour in this current economic situation in which young people find themselves.
The bill would ensure that internships would be for educational purposes, that they would be the primary benefit of the intern and that they would not replace paid employees. Some will say that means they will not have an opportunity.
We are saying that we need to ensure, especially in companies that can afford to pay young workers, these unpaid internship entry-level positions should be paid positions, as they have been for generations upon generations. I do not think anyone in this place would disagree with the fairness of that.
We know there are many well-run internship programs. Some of my colleagues tonight have referenced some of them. However, we also know that there is abuse in the system. We need to step in as a responsible Parliament and take a look at the things we can do to protect young workers, to encourage the economy to invest in young workers and to stabilize the economy for young workers.
This is an important step in the right direction to see that all workers, all young people, have the same protections as everybody else in the economy and that they get paid. If we are building an economy where we increasingly are encouraging a system and an economy where young people are forced to work for free, we are not doing what we need to do to shrink the income inequality gap and we are gaming the system for those who have the opportunities and the capacity to spend sometimes several years working for free, while others cannot afford that same opportunity.
We need to look at ways in which we can ensure that as many young people as possible can gain access to the economy, can have safety and the knowledge that they are protected in their workplace, to have that agency. We have heard stories and seen examples where that just simply is not the case.
In honour of the memory of Andy Ferguson and the good work his family has done to try to bring this issue to the fore, I urge all my colleagues in the House to really take a look at the bill and to ask themselves whether the way we have set this table for young workers is fair. I am sure when they ask that question in an honest way, they will discover that indeed unpaid interns deserve the same protections and the same rights as employees under the Labour Code.