Bill C-620, the Intern Protection Act, was tabled by Member of Parliament (MP) Laurin Liu this June in the House of Commons.The bill is aimed at extending the workplace protections of paid employees to unpaid interns at the federal level and seeks to address the high youth unemployment rates in the nation. It places restrictions on the conditions an unpaid internship must fulfill, preventing employers from replacing paid positions with unpaid internships.
“What this bill would do is regulate industries at the federal level [….] It would offer interns the same protection as paid employees, “ Liu told the Tribune in an interview. “That means protection against workplace harassment, protection against […] unsafe work, [and] a limit to the amount of hours they could work.”
Liu cited the case of Andy Ferguson, an unpaid intern in Alberta who died in a car crash after working a 16-hour shift in 2011, as an example of the exploitation of interns throughout Canada.
“Right now at the federal level, interns don’t receive any protection whatsoever because there is no mention of interns in federal law,” she said. “Cases such as Andy’s […] illustrate the point to which interns are actually subject to abuse.”
Many student unions have voiced their support of the bill, including the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), the Canadian Alliance of Student Association (CASA), and the Fédération Étudiante Collégiale du Québec (FECQ).
“We welcome any legislation that will reduce exploitation and protect workers, especially those in precarious work and internships,” CFS National Chairperson Jessica McCormick said. “The Intern Protection Bill is a step in the right direction.”
Discontent among unpaid interns is already seeing an effect in the job market. For example, Bell Mobility discontinued its unpaid internship program earlier this April after a former intern in the program filed a complaint to claim wages last year. The former intern claimed that she performed the same tasks as paid employees and that the program did not provide educational value.
Additional steps will require widespread efforts to increase pressure to industries and federal government to replace unpaid internships with paid ones, according to Liu.
“I think pressure’s definitely mounting for companies to replace unpaid internships with paid internships, and we’ve seen that in non-federally regulated industries,” Liu said. “Hopefully, this bill also starts national discussion around the issue of internships, about how we can offer better protection and a better workplace for young workers and give them a better chance of competing in the labour market.”