moved that Bill C-636, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (unpaid training), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to debate my Bill C-636, Intern Protection Act. It is a particular honour for me, as one of the youngest MPs in the House, because this issue is very important for the workers of my generation.
According to Statistics Canada, the youth unemployment rate is almost twice the national average. Young workers are increasingly living in a precarious situation and are having a very tough time finding paid work.
More than ever, young Canadians who want to launch their careers feel obliged to take unpaid internships that promise to give them work experience but rarely lead to a permanent job.
Other young graduates are often buried under student debt and feel that they cannot afford to work without getting paid. The average debt for graduating Canadian students is $28,000, according to Statistics Canada. Debt often cripples young Canadians for life.
It is estimated that there are 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada today. Although some provinces have legislated on this subject, there is no federal law at present governing internships in areas under federal jurisdiction such as telecommunications, transportation, banks and aviation.
However, Ontario has started to take action against companies that use illegal unpaid internships. Saskatchewan and Alberta have indicated that they were planning to tighten their employment standards governing internships. There is clearly a desire in Canada to protect and have rules for interns.
We cannot talk about unpaid interns in Canada without mentioning the story of Andy Ferguson, a young Edmonton man of 22 who was a broadcasting student. In fact, he would have celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday today, February 17.
Andy lost his life in 2011 when he was driving home after working 16 hours at the radio station where he was completing his internship. The loss of this promising young man brought into stark relief the urgent need for rules that would prevent the abuse of interns, in particular by limiting the hours of work an employer can require of an intern.
A few months ago, I had the honour of meeting Matthew Ferguson, Andy Ferguson’s brother, when he came to the House of Commons for the introduction of this bill. He hopes that this bill will prevent other interns from finding themselves in the difficult position Andy Ferguson was in. Matthew Ferguson believes we have to start this discussion in order to prevent more abuse.
There have also been other cases reported in the media of profitable companies that employed unpaid interns to do the work of paid employees. That was the case with Bell Mobility, which recruited hundreds of interns a year under its professional management program. Last year, a former intern tried to get paid after working for Bell Mobility for five weeks under the program.
Torontonian Jainna Patel argued that the internship had no incentive value and she was doing the same work as a paid employee. Ms. Patel’s complaint was rejected by a federal labour standards inspector, but she appealed his decision with the help of a Toronto lawyer. The standards that apply to the use of unpaid internships have to be tightened to ensure that young workers like Jainna Patel do not fall into a grey area.
Given the current situation, the federal government has to act to provide rules governing internships in areas under federal jurisdiction. The purpose of my bill is to offer unpaid interns the same protections as paid employees. The first clause of this bill requires that employment standards and protections, such as rights relating to health and safety, be applied to unpaid interns.
That includes the right to be informed of any potential danger, to be properly trained for the work and to refuse to perform a task that constitutes a danger to the intern or to others. Other protections that would apply to interns include measures relating to reasonable hours of work.
Bill C-636 will also limit hours of work so that the employer may require a maximum of 48 hours’ work per week. In addition, the measures that protect employees against sexual harassment will apply to unpaid interns. Every intern will therefore have the right to be protected against any conduct, comment, gesture or contact of a sexual nature that is likely to cause offence or humiliation.
These are protections that everyone deserves to have in their workplace.
My bill contains a second element that sets rules for the use of unpaid internships. Unpaid internships often replace “bottom of the ladder” jobs, and with companies tightening their belts, young workers are the ones who pay the price. The Intern Protection Act would limit abuses by ensuring that the internship is similar to training given at a vocational training centre. Moreover, the intern must benefit substantially from the training and the employer must derive little or no profit from it. The bill will also ensure that interns cannot replace paid employees.
Lastly, the bill requires that the employer inform the intern of the terms of their internship and keep a record of the hours worked by the intern.
I am proud to announce that this bill has received the support of major organizations representing interns, students and young workers, including the Canadian Intern Association, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec and other major union organizations, including the CLC and Unifor.
In addition, Career Edge, a not-for-profit organization that helps create paid internships in numerous federally regulated industries, has called this bill a huge and positive step forward. The bill has also received the support of Andy Ferguson’s family.
Incidentally, I would also like to mention the impact of this bill on gender equality. A University of Victoria study of interns found that women are overrepresented in the industrial sectors that use the largest number of unpaid internships. Clearly, Bill C-636 is a step forward for equality between men and women in the workplace.
However, it must be noted that my bill is in reality an essential first step toward protection for interns, and also that we must do more. For example, at present, it is difficult to estimate how many interns there are in Canada, whether paid or not. Statistics Canada and federal and provincial government departments do not compile information about internships. The federal government needs to instruct Statistics Canada to do this, in order to obtain data about the number and types of internships in Canada. This is the only way to get a comprehensive picture of youth unemployment and underemployment. The federal government also needs to strengthen enforcement of the standards to take action against employers that exploit unpaid interns.
Also, Canadians deserve a government that addresses the issue of youth employment. Over 280,000 young people lost their jobs during the recession, and very few of those jobs have since been recovered. The NDP has proposed a number of measures to help young workers in urban centres. The NDP previously proposed a tax credit for businesses that hire young Canadians in order to offset the high unemployment rate. Why not give our young people a country with the future prospects they deserve? We should give our young people the same opportunities their parents had and the same ability to progress through the important stages of life, such as buying a first home or being able to provide for their families.
To conclude, I urge my colleagues on all sides of the House to support this bill so that Canadian interns receive the appropriate protections they so desperately need. I will point out that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance has recently published a report that recommends the following:
That the federal government collect data on unpaid internships in Canada and work with the provinces and territories to ensure the appropriate protections under relevant labour codes.
In the same recommendation of last year's report, the members of the committee said:
Moreover, the government should study the impacts of unpaid internships.
Although the NDP emphasized in a dissenting report the importance of stricter additional measures, including changes to the Canada Labour Code, the work of the Standing Committee on Finance showed that the protection of interns goes beyond partisanship. I was actually very encouraged to hear a few weeks ago that Bill C-636 had prompted the federal government to hold consultations regarding the situation of interns in federally regulated industries.
We have to show Canadians that we can work together on these issues that are so crucial for young workers. It is time to take action by passing Bill C-636.
I would add that this bill will not cost the federal government a penny. We have to provide this protection for young workers immediately because too many of them are being marginalized in their workplaces.
I can also talk about my colleagues and people I went to school with, who are currently looking for work. Young workers often go from contract to contract or do several unpaid internships in a row before they get a job offer. I think that is a deplorable situation for young workers in Canada.
I would add that, as I said, the youth unemployment rate is twice the national average: it is close to 14%. That means young workers in Canada are quite unlikely to find paid work.
When witnesses came to testify before the Standing Committee on Finance about youth unemployment, we noted that the rate of youth underemployment was very high. The experts told us that one in three young workers in Canada are currently underemployed. Since they cannot find a job in their field, they are required to accept part-time positions, go back to school or accept unpaid internships.
I would like to come back to the fact that the current federal legislation on interns is vague. We heard the government say in the House that it was not aware of this issue. Basically, part II of the Canada Labour Code applies to occupational health and safety, and part III concerns the hours an employer may ask employees to work.
Unfortunately, we have not yet had a response from this government in the House about the protection of unpaid internships. We can see that the government is not grasping the magnitude of this phenomenon and that it does not understand how widespread the problem is.
Basically, my bill would ensure that the standards for hours of work and occupational health and safety would also apply to unpaid interns.
We have to say that this issue has been in the news in recent months, especially with respect to harassment. All workers in Canada deserve to have a safe workplace and to enjoy basic protections, whether or not they are paid. We heard terrible stories about interns who were exploited in their workplace and had no recourse under the Canada Labour Code.
Unfortunately, we have no data on the numbers of unpaid internships in Canada at this time. The federal government must also require Statistics Canada to collect data on the extent of this phenomenon in Canada.
The underlying premise of this private member's bill is that every Canadian who does the work of an employee who is usually paid must also be paid. That is the intent of my bill. It will ensure that employers provide remuneration to anyone doing the same work as a paid employee.
I encourage all members of parliament to take action on this issue that is so urgent for young workers and to support Bill C-636.