Opposition MPP Jonah Schein has introduced a private member’s bill to place stricter limits on unpaid internships in Ontario. Bill 170, Employment Standards Amendment Act (Greater Protection for Interns and Vulnerable Workers), 2014, would require employers to provide information to interns about the legal implications of their employment status, extend certain employment rights to interns and students in co-op programs, and permit individuals to provide information anonymously to the Ministry of Labour about contraventions of the Act. It’s a fairly sensible Bill that doesn’t seek to eliminate unpaid internships, but rather hopes to make employers more accountable and give interns (and students) more legal clout.
It’s important to remember that without directly mentioning interns, Ontario’s Employment Standards Act does exempt “persons receiving training” when they meet the following criteria:
- The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
- The training is for the benefit of the individual.
- The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained.
- The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training.
- The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training.
- The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training.
Schein’s Bill would not change this category of trainee or intern, but it would apply many more employment standards to them than they currently enjoy.
First, employers would have to inform such a trainee or intern in writing, on the first day of the internship or training, of:
- The parts of the Act that do and do not apply to the individual’s employment.
- The conditions set out in paragraphs 1 to 6 above that are all met with respect to the individual receiving training.
- The terms of the individual’s employment, including the length of his or her employment and a general description of the work to be performed.
- The individual’s hours of work.
The intern would have to sign the notice and the employer submit a copy to the Director of Employment Standards. This provision would make employer-intern relations much clearer and help interns understand their rights and their employer’s responsibilities.
Second, with some exceptions, interns, high school students in authorized work experience programs and post-secondary students in authorized co-op programs would become subject to the employment standards pertaining to records, hours of work and eating periods, leaves of absence, lie detectors, reprisals, complaints and enforcement and reviews by the board.
Third, the Bill would require employers to give interns and affected students public holidays and at least two weeks of time off for each year of work.
These changes would effectively make interns and students in applicable work programs employees except for compensation and terminations.
For advocates of banning unpaid internships entirely, Bill 170 might not go far enough. However, the Bill would undoubtedly increase administration and make many Ontario employers rethink their strategies, if not give up on unpaid internships. Still, it’s a positive sign that legislators are paying attention to the issue.
The Bill was introduced and received first reading on March 4, 2014. We’ll watch its progress.