NDP MPP proposes new protections for unpaid interns
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New Democrat MPP Jonah Schein thinks unpaid interns should be an election issue if one is called this spring.
He’ll introduce a private members bill Tuesday at Queen’s Park that would, if passed, amend the Employment Standards Act to include unpaid interns and require the Ministry of Labour to keep track of who is working unpaid.
“All parties should take a close look at this,” he said. “This should be a top of mind issue for everybody who represents a riding in Ontario — they should have a position on protecting people in their workplace.”
Right now, a six-part test sets out the conditions under which a worker is exempt from the Employment Standards Act — the law that mandates the minimum wage — but students who are receiving a school credit rather than payment are exempt automatically.
Schein’s bill would change that, bringing co-op students, trainees and interns under the act so they would also be entitled to breaks and other protections if not a paycheque.
He is also proposing a written notice of employment status similar to a contract to be filed with the Ministry of Labour and spell out expectations like the job description and hours of work.
“It allows us to start collecting data about what’s happening. We don’t actually know what’s happening,” he said. No government agency, federal or provincial, is tracking unpaid workers although its estimated 300,000 young people are working free across the country. About 100,000 of those are not working through a school program and are not accounted for anywhere.
Another component is an anonymous complaint system, like a hotline or email address.
If passed, the Employment Standards Amendment Act would require an intern bill of rights in every workplace that outlines health and safety laws, employment standards and the six-part test.
The vast majority of internships, unless required by an educational institution, does not meet the test and are therefore illegal. Under current law, the employer cannot derive more benefit than the student.
In December, labour minister Yasir Naqvi announced changes to labour legislation that would bring unpaid workers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and boost workplace inspections this spring.
The Star revealed last fall unpaid workers were not covered by the province’s cornerstone workplace safety laws.
An anonymous complaint system would particularly benefit interns, said Canadian Intern Association president Claire Seaborn, who has submitted complaints on behalf of interns. There’s a disincentive for them to complain themselves since most are working for an employer’s reference, she said.
A similar private members bill was tabled federally by NDP MP Andrew Cash, who represents the same Davenport riding as Schein.
Several intern advocacy groups made submissions to the public consultation process ahead of the spring budget, said Toronto labour lawyer Andrew Langille.
The bill would “put the issue on the legislative agenda,” he said.
“It’s something important to both young workers and also a lot of parents in the middle class because they see their sons and daughters working away for no wages.”
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