Toronto Star Op Ed: Budget Bill Exposes Interns to Exploitation

Today our op ed was published in the Toronto Star!

Budget Bill Exposes Interns to Exploitation

The federal government’s budget implementation bill is bad news for interns.

The proposed amendments to the Canada Labour Code would allow federally regulated employers to “hire” interns for four to 12 months without pay if certain conditions are met. For example, the internship must “primarily” benefit the intern, the employer must “supervise” the intern and the intern cannot “replace” any employee. These conditions are overbroad, unclear and inadequate. They permit employers to extract work from interns by providing minimal training and no remuneration.

The government did get some things right. We are pleased that interns in the federal sector will receive health, safety and other basic workplace protections (that part was a no-brainer). We also agree that unpaid internships may be permissible if done in partnership with a school program, although more oversight is a must. Requiring employers to keep records of their internship programs is a good idea.

Nevertheless, allowing four to 12 month unpaid internships is the wrong approach. Students and graduates would no longer be entitled to pay for many summer and entry-level jobs. Federally regulated employers like Bell Media, Via Rail, Air Canada, TD Bank, Rogers and the CBC would have incentive to cycle through interns indefinitely for free labour instead of providing paid positions.

What’s most galling about these reforms is that essentially all federally regulated employers are capable of paying their interns. These are large, national organizations in the telecommunications, banking and transportation industries. We cannot quite understand why these employers would not have to pay wages while non-profit organizations, start-ups and small businesses are required to pay interns (who are not receiving school credit) minimum wage under provincial employment laws.

Two weeks ago the government released a budget that promised to “strengthen the Canada Labour Code protections for all employees and interns under federal jurisdiction” and “clarify the circumstances under which unpaid internships may be offered.” We watched with cautious optimism, but have been sorely let down. Unfortunately, rather than protecting interns and discouraging employee misclassification, the budget bill would create a broad loophole allowing employers to exploit unpaid labour.

Uncertainty — that is what the proposed conditions allowing unpaid internships outside of school programs create. Interns would be uncertain about their workplace rights while employers would be uncertain about when they are required to pay. Coupled with the lack of proactive enforcement and the Canada Labour Program’s meagre complaints system, the system is ripe for exploitation.

The budget bill’s impact on interns reflects the government’s abdication of its responsibility to support youth in their school-to-labour market transition and perpetuates problematic intergenerational inequities. Canadians deserve better.

Claire SeabornJosh Mandryk and Andrew Langille are with the Canadian Intern Association. You can support their work at www.internassociation.ca

Media inquiries:

Josh: 416 576 1514, josh@internassociation.ca
Claire:  647 528 2348, claire@internassociation.ca

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