Changing Federal Standards

As a follow up to our Director of Law Reform’s appearance on CTV’s Your Morning, we want to outline some upcoming legislative changes at the Federal level. While unpaid internships that are not part of school programs may be declining in Ontario’s provincially regulated sectors, additional standards are necessary to protect federally regulated interns.


Although most employees are provincially regulated, if you work in certain industries like banking or telecommunications, you are likely covered by federal standards.

In 2017, we successfully pushed for changes to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act that ensure interns are entitled to minimum wage and standard hours unless they fall within the student exception.

In late 2017, we finally changed the Federal Government’s position. While the Liberals initially proposed legislation in 2015 that would have prevented interns from accessing basic employment standards, we successfully opposed the problematic legislation. Now, the Federal Government has introduced standards similar to Ontario’s legislation; the new federal standards guarantee interns minimum wage unless they perform an internship as part of a formal school program. While the new federal standards are not yet in force, the Federal Government expects that they will come into force in 2019.

Improving Federal Standards

The Federal Government is proposing two further changes to labour standards that would affect interns.

First, under Bill C-65, sexual harassment provisions in the Canada Labour Code are moving from Part III (Standard Hours, Wages, Vacations and Holidays) to Part II (Occupation Health and Safety). Section 123(3) of the Canada Labour Code currently provides that Part II applies to “any person who is not an employee but who performs for an employer to which this Part applies activities whose primary purpose is to enable the person to acquire knowledge or experience.” This means that if Bill C-65 passes, interns (even those performing unpaid school internships) will be protected from sexual harassment under the Canada Labour Code.

Second, in the 2017 budget (see page 64), the Federal Government committed to regulating maximum hours of work, weekly days of rest and general holidays for unpaid school internships. The current lack of restrictions on hours of work is troubling given the death of interns like Aaron Murray and Andy Ferguson, both of whom fell asleep at the wheel after working an unpaid overnight shift. Regulations that would close this gap and protect interns are expected in 2019.

The Problem With Unpaid School Internships

These changes are important, but there is room for improvement.

School internship programs often present the opportunity for a great learning experience. Instead of fetching coffee, interns have the opportunity to develop practical skills. Yet, that experience comes at a cost. Interns must now pay to work.

Student internships that fall under federal jurisdiction should be subject to minimum wage laws. Each year, students perform countless hours of unpaid work as a requirement of their college or university programs. Reports of students performing work that would otherwise be performed by employees raises concerns about the appropriateness of unpaid placements. Most federal sector employers can afford to pay those who intern for them; these employers are often major banks and telecommunications companies, not small businesses.

The University of Waterloo’s co-operative education model offers a better alternative – students can learn while they earn. Learn more about the University of Waterloo’s model here.

Changes to Ontario’s Internship Laws

As of January 1st, 2018, Ontario’s internship laws have changed in three ways.

First, the six-part test for trainees not part of a secondary, post-secondary, or professional program was repealed. This means that if you are completing an internship or training program that is not part of a secondary, post-secondary, or professional program, you likely qualify as an employee under the Employment Standards Act and are entitled to minimum wage. Effective January 1, 2018, the hourly minimum wage in Ontario is $14 for most employees, and $13.15 for students under the age of 18 who work 28 hours a week or less when school is in session, or work during a school break or summer holidays.

Second, the student exemption was broadened to include students interning as part of a private career college program. If you are an interning as part of a university, private career college or other post-secondary institution program, you are likely not entitled to minimum wage.

Third, the definition of worker under the Occupational Health and Safety Act was broadened to include those who intern without pay as part of a private career college program. If you are completing an unpaid internship or training program as part of a university, private career college or other post-secondary institution, you are likely entitled to protections under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Click here for a more comprehensive review of Ontario’s current internship laws.

Intern Association applauds review’s anti-exploitation recommendations

May 28, 2017

The Canadian Intern Association (the “Association”) applauds the Changing Workplace Review’s recommendations related to interns. The Review recommends repealing those portions of  section 1(2) of the Employment Standards Act, 2000 that allow employers to avoid paying some interns. If followed, these recommendations will significantly clarify and strengthen interns’ rights. The Association encourages the Ontario government to act swiftly to implement these intern-focused recommendations.

“Everyone who works deserves to get paid. There is no persuasive reason to exclude young people, who already struggle with record levels of debt, from basic workplace protections. This Review’s recommendations are a step in the right direction,” said Amy Kishek, Executive Director of the Association.

“The Changing Workplace Review’s recommendation would eliminate one of the few exceptions in Ontario law that allows employers to avoid paying interns. We thank the Review for hearing from Ontario interns who are desperately trying to gain experience while balancing family and financial obligations,” said Joshua Mandryk, the Association’s Ontario Director.

Currently, interns can be excluded from basic workplace protections – including the minimum wage – if six conditions are met. The Changing Workplace Review found that the test is “unclear and difficult to understand” (p. 274 of the Final Report) and “almost impossible to enforce (ibid). In addition, the Review found that “there is no good policy reason to maintain section 1 (2) of the ESA” (p. 275 of the Final Report).

The Association advocates against the exploitation of interns and for quality, paid internships across Canada. Media inquiries can be directed to Executive Director Amy Kishek at 613-404-4054.