The NDP has tabled a bill which aims to offer more protection to unpaid interns.
The bill gives all unpaid interns employed by the federal government basic rights such as the right to refuse dangerous work, limits on excessive hours, and protection from harassment. The bill also calls for necessary training and prevents unpaid interns from replacing paid employees.
The Canadian Alliance of Students Associations (CASA), which Feds was a member of until recently, has spoken out in favour of the bill.
“Interns deserve the same protection as regular employees,” said Travis Gordon, board chair for CASA, in a press release.
UW’s director of student and faculty relations for co-operative education, Rocco Fondacaro, has also spoken in favour of the bill, calling it “a step in the right direction … it’s certainly bringing attention to [the issue], which is great.”
“I’m not sure how many unpaid interns the federal government hires. Certainly, they don’t hire unpaid co-ops from us, so it doesn’t have an effect directly on the co-op program, but anything that’s going to help with the health and safety of any worker is a good thing,” said Peggie Jarvie, executive director of co-operative education at UW.
“We have our own internal quality, but we’re also credited by the Canadian Association for Co-operative Education (CAFCE), and the definition that we subscribe to for co-operative education includes a requirement for remuneration,” Fondacaro said. “We have had, and still do have unpaid jobs … We’ve been working over the past seven years to try to minimize the number of unpaid jobs, so right now we’re looking at between two and three per cent unpaid.”
The CAFCE definition of co-operative education includes six elements: each placement must be approved by the school as a suitable learning situation, the student must be engaged and not just observing, the student must receive remuneration, the school must monitor the student’s progress, the student’s work must be supervised and evaluated by said supervisor, and the time spent on work terms must be at least 30 per cent of the time spent on academic study.
“We do have what we call alternate forms of remuneration, so if an organization can’t pay a salary but can pay a stipend or room and board or even equity in a startup company, we do a lot of work in companies to provide those sort of things if they don’t have the cash flow to hire a student and pay a salary,” Jarvie said.
“I think it’s great that they want to ensure that students get workplace support,” Fondacaro said. He said the bigger problem regarding support for co-op students and interns is the Employment Standards Act (ESA), “which offers absolutely no protection for students.”
The ESA, which was passed into Ontario law in 2000, currently lists students (secondary and post-secondary) who are in the workplace as a part of a work experience program as exceptions to the act.
“I think there’s more that could be done through the ESA to protect students who are in the workplace,” Jarvie said.
“Legislation’s tough, it’s really hard to open up those acts, and once they’re open it’s hard to get legislation changed,” Fondacaro said.
The NDP bill, which, if passed, will become federal law, was introduced June 16 by NDP MP Lairin Liu. It is currently being reviewed by the House of Commons.
“I’m thrilled with the attention that various [forms] of experiential education are getting and particularly with attention on co-op, I’ve believed for a long time that experiential education is a wonderful way for people to learn,” Jarvie said.