Act Would Protect Unpaid Interns from Abuse

Intern Protection Act Follows Death of Unpaid Intern

The Intern Protection Act, a private member’s bill set to be debated in the House of Commons this month, would provide interns in federally regulated industries with the basic protections that are afforded to permanent employees.

The bill is the brainchild of Lauren Liu, the New Democratic Party MP for Riviere-des-Milles-Îles, who told The Link, “I am hopeful that this private members bill can receive the bipartisan support, which will be vital to the bill’s passage into law, for it was written with this specific intention, as a result some Conservatives are already on board.”

A private member’s bill is a piece of legislation proposed by neither the government nor the opposition, and this bill will require bipartisan support if it becomes law, given the Conservative’s majority in the lower house.

Interns are not protected by federal law in Canada, Liu said, adding that “a patchwork of provincial labor laws exists across the nation but in general these are inadequate and do not provide a clear avenue for recourse against an employer.” The bill would provide interns with the same protections as other employees.

The proposed bill follows the death of Andy Ferguson, an intern at a radio station in Alberta, who died from a head-on collision after working excessive hours without pay. The bill aims to help hundreds of thousands of young Canadians who will undertake internships this year from potentially unscrupulous employers.

Concordia student Sima Youssef said of his experience interning, “I felt as if I was exploited.” On another hand, Concordia journalism major Shaun Michaud said his experience was positive.

“I had complete creative freedom and the experience I accrued was helpful,” he told The Link.

Liu says the proposed Intern Protection Act is “far from radical.”

“It is largely a common-sense piece of legislature,” she said. “It will limit the working week to 48 hours, provide interns with the right to refuse dangerous work and protect them from sexual harassment.”

Furthermore, the employer will be obligated to notify their interns of the terms of the internship, including pay, or lack thereof, along with the hours they will be required to work. Liu said the NDP feels this is merely a “first step” to providing interns with greater protections as current federal law does “nothing to prevent unpaid interns from being exploited.”

The attention that this bill has received has led companies such as Bell to scrap their unpaid internship programs. If the public discussion continues, it is likely that other companies will bend to popular pressure to end programs which essentially discriminate against people on the basis of their age.

It is the view of many, including independent MP Brent Rathbeger, that interns should not be made to work excessive hours as it risks a repeat of the events surrounding Andy Ferguson’s death.

Other MPs, such as Peggy Sattler, have recently called for the federal government to afford greater protection and to strengthen oversight of the internship system.