New laws proposed to protect unpaid internships

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The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, which was recently implemented in December 2013, now extends the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to students enrolled in for-credit, unpaid co-op positions.


The OHSA guarantees three basic rights: the right to be informed of hazards, the right to representation, and the right to refuse unsafe work.


The new Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act covers all for-credit UW co-op students. Paid student workers have similar rights and protection as other Ontario workers. However, non co-op students remain apprehensive about protection limitations regarding non-credit unpaid internships.


Although progress is being made to extend co-op students protections under the OHSA, unpaid student workers are still an area of concern.


“As for regulations for unpaid workers, that seems to be an area of increased interest right now. [Unpaid] interns have limited or no coverage in the relevant Acts or Codes.” said Olaf Naese, communications specialist at the University of Waterloo Co-operative Education & Career Action Centre.


“In UW co-op, instances of negative impact due to lack of government regulations on unpaid student workers is rare.”  


Naese also stated that employers aren’t legally required to provide co-op students with vacation pay, overtime pay, or statutory holidays as stated in the Ontario Employment Standards Act except if they are employed by an industry under federal jurisdiction. Most employers still provide such pay anyway. Nevertheless, not all students are protected. 


Action is currently being taken to extend regulations to protect all unpaid student workers. The federal government is looking into unpaid jobs and laws protecting students in such jobs.


Also, the Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi stated in his Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act announcement that he would bring together stakeholders to develop strategies for increasing awareness of and improving enforcement of the ESA (Ontario Employments Act).


OUSA promoted greater enforcement of the ESA in its government submission, Youth Employment: Reimagining the link between labour and learning.


Ontario is introducing legislation that increases protection for vulnerable workers in the province. The Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act is one step in the direction of protecting vulnerable workers, but there is still a long way to go in ensuring that all student workers (including unpaid interns) have more protection under government employment regulations. 
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