Unpaid interns: MP Andrew Cash to table private member’s bill targeting illegal internships

Toronto MP Andrew Cash will introduce a private member’s bill in the House of Commons on Monday that addresses the issue of precarious workers, including interns.

The proposed National Urban Worker Strategy would, if passed, require federal and provincial ministers of labour to sit down and work out how to fill in gaps in legislation that leave unpaid workers unprotected, said Cash, NDP MP for Davenport.

In Ontario, the Occupational Health and Safety Act does not cover workers who do not earn a paycheque, which could affect as many as 300,000 interns in the province.

“Our laws are stuck in the 20th century and we need to update our laws and social policies to reflect the reality of work today,” Cash said.

“Young people are looking at a labour market where instead of finding an entry-level position you have to work for free. We need to strengthen the laws that are already on the books.”

Internships are mostly under provincial jurisdiction, unless in a federally regulated sector like telecommunications. But Cash wants provincial and federal ministers to strike a joint task force that would increase public awareness and monitoring of internships across the country, as well as enforcement of existing laws.

Under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, companies can “hire” someone to work without wages if the internship is through a high school, college or university program, or meets six strict criteria, including a provision the employer derives little or no benefit.

That means if an unpaid internship is not for course credit or is more like actual work than education and training, it’s likely illegal.

Cash wants officials to crack down on illegal work. “This is the role of government. You’ve got to be out there letting people know what the rules are and what workers should expect in a workplace,” Cash said.

An internal briefing note obtained by the Star this week showed the labour ministry is aware many unpaid internships in Ontario are illegal.

The bill also proposes some expansion of the Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan regimes, as well as addressing issues like temp agencies.


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