Internships, Youth Unemployment, and the 2015 Federal Election: An Analysis of the Parties’ Positions

The Canadian Intern Association is a not-for-profit organization that advocates for the workplace rights of interns and young workers. In advance of the October 19, 2015 general election, we developed a questionnaire around issues related to unpaid internships, law reform to the federal labour code, and active labour market programs to support youth employment. We received responses from all of the major political parties with the exception of the Conservative Party of Canada. An analysis of the parties’ responses is provided below and the entirety of the actual responses is available for download here. The analysis is divided between the national parties and parties predominately running candidates in Quebec.

As a strictly non-partisan organization, we have engaged directly with the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada (“the LPC”), the New Democratic Party (“the NDP”), and the Conservative Party of Canada (“the CPC”) over the past three years to promote greater workplace protections for interns.  The analysis here is solely based on the responses we received from the parties. No other sources we consulted. Andrew Langille, the Canadian Intern Association’s General Counsel, who does not hold membership in any political party, prepared the analysis.

The Canadian Intern Association urges everyone to engage in the political process surrounding the Federal election. Information about registering to vote can be obtained from the Elections Canada website or by calling 1-866-463-6868. If you have specific questions arising out of our analysis we encourage you to speak directly with candidates in your riding to understand their positions and make an informed choice. The election in on October 19, 2015, and there will be advance polls taking place in the next week. We strongly encourage everyone to vote.

Overall Evaluation:

The Canadian Intern Association is certainly heartened by the responses received from all the parties. The responses from the LPC and NDP show that both parties take the issue of unpaid labour in the youth labour market seriously and that serious thought has gone into preparing their positions, that being said we remain concerned that both parties have not provided clear answers about possible policy responses and are simply parroting their platforms. How parties deal with unpaid internships can be viewed as a barometer as to how wider labour market regulation vis-à-vis youth would be approached and in this regard more detail would have been appreciated.

Out of the other parties the Bloc Québécois (“BQ”) and the Green Party of Canada (“GPC”) both offer advance the notion that young people should not be working for free. The position of both parties is welcome as they acknowledge the myriad difficulties that young workers are facing in the labour market. We must, however, remain cognizant that neither party is in a position to form the government or opposition.

Finally, we are deeply concerned about the CPC’s lack of response to our questionnaire. Internships, paid or unpaid, forms a growing segment of the jobs available in the youth labour market, particularly in industries that require post-secondary education. It is no secret the CPC has largely ignored the concerns of young Canadians over the last decade and their silence on this issue speaks volumes. We strongly encourage everyone to examine the CPC’s record both on youth labour market issues and public policy directed at youth when deciding on who to vote for.

National Parties:

 These are the response of the national parties, namely the GPC, LPC, and NDP. As previously noted, the CPC did not provide a response to our questionnaire.

Workplace Protections under the Canada Labour Code

  1.  If elected, will your party amend the Canada Labour Code (“the CLC”) to ensure that federally regulated employers pay all interns who are not performing work as a requirement of their secondary or post-secondary educational program?

The LPC in their response, which combined questions one and two, make a number of general comments, but do not commit to specific measures with respect to changes to the CLC. The LPC response suggests that “[e]stablishing clear standards around internships will help safeguard legitimate opportunities for young workers while protecting them from exploitation.”

In their response the GPC states that, if elected, they would amend the CLC to ensure that federally regulated employers pay their interns. Additionally, the GPC states that they would work through the Council of Canada Governments, essentially an inter-governmental body with representation from the provinces and territories, to develop a comprehensive strategy to “ensure all working Canadians are fairly compensated.”

The NDP response states that the party is committed to “cracking down on the use of unpaid internships.” The NDP further states that they would extend full health and safety protections to interns under the CLC, and would “limit the scope of internships in a manner that would shift most positions to paid employment.” The response does not clarify how this shift would be accomplished, but it is a plausible, albeit somewhat difficult, policy objective to achieve.

  1. If elected, what measures will your party take to introduce greater protections and oversight for interns performing work for federally regulated employers as a requirement of their secondary or post-secondary educational program? Please be specific.

The NDP’s response is interesting, but does not address the student aspect head-on. They repeat the line about extending health and safety protections, and then provide various examples of areas when interns should receive protections. The response then goes on to discuss two-tiered compensation schemes for younger workers, which is not directly applicable to student interns. Finally, the NDP commits to re-opening the CLC in a “tripartite manner” to ensure that young workers get a fair deal; it is unclear what is meant by that statement.

The LPC makes no commitments to introducing greater protections under the CLC for students undertaking internships with federally regulated employers. The GPC states that they “believe that [students] should be fairly compensated for their contributions to the workplace.” The GPC suggests that paid, rather than unpaid internships, should be promoted. The GPC also commits to increase workplace inspections and enact stronger deterrent to “illegal unpaid overtime work.”

Data Collection

  1. Statistics Canada does not record data on the number of unpaid internships in Canada, although estimates place the number at between 100,000 and 300,000 annually. If elected, will your party ensure Statistics Canada tracks the prevalence of unpaid internships in Canada’s labour market?

The GPC would require all employers to report the number and duration of unpaid internships to Statistics Canada.

The NDP commits to reinstating the long-form census and also indicates that it would expect Statistics Canada to include questions about unpaid internships in its surveys.

The LPC provides the most in-depth response and reference how labour market information is critical to making informed public policy decisions. The LPC would: make Statistics Canada fully independent; collect more detailed labour market information; and, would immediately restore the long-form census.

Supporting Youth in the School-to-Labour Market Transition

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to promote summer employment for college and university students? Please be specific.

The GPC proposes a three measures: support for integrated education and co-op programs; restoring funding for and expanding the Federal student summer job program; and, implementing a guaranteed liveable income, essentially some form of basic income, so students can meet the necessities of live.

The NDP succinctly states that they will continue to support programs like the Youth Employment Strategy and the Federal Student Work Experience Program.

The LPC response does not provide specifics and really only states that an LPC government would invest in young Canadians.

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to support recent college and university graduates in the school-to-labour market transitions? Please be specific.

The LPC essentially repeats their youth jobs policy plank from the platform, which has various pieces to it. In a nutshell, the LPC state that they would do the following: (1) overall investment of $1.3 billion over three years; (2) would increase the number of jobs funded by the Canada Summer Jobs program; (3) would double the number of spots in the Skills Link program; (4) create 5,000 youth “green” jobs via increased hiring at Parks Canada; (5) reinstate the Youth Service Program and fund it at $25 million per year; and, (6) enacting changes to Employment Insurance (“EI”) by eliminating EI premiums for employers for full-time employees aged 18 to 24 for the first twelve months of their employment, and ending the nine-hundred and ten (910) qualifying bar for young workers to obtain EI benefits, which is a serious impediment for young workers to qualify for EI.

The NDP’s response conveys three main points: (1) the NDP would commit $100 million annually to funds, in partnership with private and non-profit organizations, to help young Canadians obtain employment; (2) a commitment to offer opportunities at Parks Canada; and, (3) raise the Federal minimum wage to $15.00 per hour.

The GPC response centres around tuition fees, which they commit to abolish for post-secondary education and skills training by 2020; additionally, the GPC would eliminate Federal student debt above $10,000.00, abolish charging interest, and increase funding for bursaries. The GPC proposals are largely unrealistic due to the Federal division of powers under the Constitution and the provinces retaining overall jurisdiction for education in Canada.

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to promote apprenticeships and skills development in the trades? Please be specific.

The GPC references the non-existent skills shortage in their response to this question. That error aside, the GPC commits to the following: boosting access to apprenticeship programs in key trades; provide financial supports to tradespersons to support taking on apprentices; expand industry-based job training; and, develop a Youth Community and Environment Service Corps to provide 40,000 jobs to young people per year for four years.

The NDP proposes two measures: all federal infrastructure projects with budgets over $10 million would have a requirement that the project must hire apprentices; and, provide funding for municipalities and Indigenous governments to create 1,250 youth apprenticeships.

The LPC response to this question repeats their policy plank in the platform relating to skills development. The LPC makes the following commitments: (1) a $500 million annual increase to Labour Market Development Agreements, which are agreements with the provinces to provide skills training and active labour market programs; (2) a $200 million increase in funding to increase training for workers who cannot currently access federal skills training; (3) implementing an appropriate apprenticeship ratio for federal infrastructure projects; (4) expanding funding for Aboriginal Skills and Employment Training Strategy; and, (5) investing $25 million in training facilities in conjunction with labour unions.

Quebec Parties:

These are the response of the parties predominately running candidates in Quebec, namely the BQ and Forces et Démocratie (“F&D”).

Workplace Protections under the Canada Labour Code

  1. If elected, will your party amend the Canada Labour Code (“the CLC”) to ensure that federally regulated employers pay all interns who are not performing work as a requirement of their secondary or post-secondary educational program?

 The BQ succinctly states that it would work to reform the CLC to ensure that all interns falling under federally regulation, except those working for a non-profit, are remunerated.  The F&D commits to amending the CLC to put in place protections for unpaid interns and ensure that tools are in place to ensure that internships meet certain criteria.

  1. If elected, what measures will your party take to introduce greater protections and oversight for interns performing work for federally regulated employers as a requirement of their secondary or post-secondary educational program? Please be specific.

 The BQ state that they consider academic unpaid internship for secondary or post-secondary educational programs to be completely unfair and state that interns should be paid. F&D would examine, but does not commit to, integrating protections against abuse and for occupational health and safety.

Data Collection

  1. Statistics Canada does not record data on the number of unpaid internships in Canada, although estimates place the number at between 100,000 and 300,000 annually. If elected, will your party ensure Statistics Canada tracks the prevalence of unpaid internships in Canada’s labour market?

The F&D states that it would reinstate the long-form census, but does not commit to collecting statistics relating to unpaid internships. The BQ states that Statistics Canada should be collecting data relating to unpaid internships.

Supporting Youth in the School-to-Labour Market Transition

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to promote summer employment for college and university students? Please be specific.

The BQ wants an increase of $50 million dollars per year in Federal summer student jobs training programs. F&D does not really propose anything other than assessing whether the current level of Federal investment in the Summer Jobs Program in adequate.

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to support recent college and university graduates in the school-to-labour market transitions? Please be specific.

The BQ wants the creation of a tax-credit to help with the renewal of rural regions by offering graduates economic incentives. The F&D proposes measures that would promote entrepreneurship and a tax-credit for young graduates who accept a job in rural areas.

  1. If elected, what investments will your party make to promote apprenticeships and skills development in the trades? Please be specific.

 The BQ proposes that the Federal government should stop twinning training programs and provide the money directly to Quebec as a way to increase direct funding of programs. The F&D didn’t propose anything other than consultations with regional leaders to assess demands for apprentices and professionals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *