Federal government has a role to play in regulating unpaid internships: lawyer

Andrew Cash wants the federal government to regulate unpaid internships and a Toronto-based labour lawyer is backing the idea.

Andrew Cash speaks at the NDP electoral district nomination meeting in 2009. (ABEBBENJOE/Wikimedia commons)

Andrew Cash speaks at the NDP electoral district nomination meeting in 2009. (ABEBBENJOE/Wikimedia commons)

Cash, the Davenport MP, tabled Bill C-542, An Act to Establish a National Urban Workers Strategy. The private member’s bill aims to provide protections for part-time, contract and self-employed workers as well as interns.

While labour and internships are mostly a provincial responsibility, Toronto-based lawyer Andrew Langille says there are a few things the federal government can control.

“This is a question of priorities. The federal government has to step up to the plate to defend young workers in the labour market,” he says.

“The federal government has to step up to the plate to defend young workers in the labour market.”

The government can regulate industries such as telecommunications, airlines, railways and inter-provincial trucking. The telecommunications sector is one of the largest markets for unpaid internships.

The federal government also has a broader role; Langille wants Stephen Harper’s government to direct Statistics Canada to keep track of unpaid internships. “No one is doing that right now.”

Langille is concerned at what he identifies as the rise of illegal unpaid internships. He wants the government to crack down on what he calls the misclassification of employees – people who should be paid, but are not.

“Not only are young people being denied a wage, they are also being denied a social entitlement such as Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan contribution,” says Langille.

“We have a hodgepodge of rules around interns,” Cash says. “Fundamentally, this bill calls for the federal government to enforce rules and to clarify and beef up labour standards.” The Bill asks the government to work with the provinces to strengthen laws governing internships. The full text of the bill can be found on Cash’s website.

In this video Cash explains who he hopes to protect with the bill:

Labour Minister Kellie Leitch says workers who feel they have been wronged can bring their complaint to a labour board.

However, Cash thinks the government could do more. “We’re placing the onus on young people to whistle blow on a company they hope to work for in the future.”

Not all internships are bad news though. Langille supports placements with a limited number of hours for a set number of weeks.

“There’s a role for internships in the labour market as a means to transition young people from school into the labour market, but I think one has to be very hesitant when one is talking about unpaid internships,” he says.

“Internships should not be a tool for employers to get free labour.”

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