06/03/2015 05:47 EDT | Updated 06/03/2016 05:59 EDT

Harper Government Promises To Bolster Protection For Unpaid Interns, Eventually

The Harper government has acknowledged that proposed legislation to protect unpaid interns from exploitation doesn't go far enough.


OTTAWA - The Harper government has acknowledged that proposed legislation to protect unpaid interns from exploitation doesn't go far enough.

The legislation, part of an omnibus budget implementation bill, has been criticized for failing to protect interns from sexual harassment, being forced to work unlimited hours or being otherwise exploited as unpaid labour.

The government now says at least some of those protections will be added in labour standards regulations after the legislation is passed.

But that's not good enough to satisfy New Democrat MP Andrew Cash, who's championed the cause of unpaid interns.

Cash says regulations can be quietly changed, without parliamentary approval.

He wants the added protections written into the legislation itself.

"Regulations can change outside of the purview of Parliament," Cash said in an interview Wednesday.

"And our position is, we feel that's not strong enough."

The Commons finance committee, which is examining the omnibus budget bill, heard largely critical testimony Tuesday from several groups about the proposed measures to protect interns, including the Canadian Intern Association and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

The government proposes to amend the Canada Labour Code to include occupational health and safety protection for unpaid interns, such as the right to refuse to do unsafe work. It's also proposing to limit full-time internships to four months and require employers to keep records of the number of hours worked by interns.

During Tuesday's committee hearing, Conservative MP Andrew Saxton, parliamentary secretary to the finance minister, told the witnesses that more protections will eventually be added, after consultations, in regulations that will "reflect the unique situation of unpaid internships."

"At a minimum, it is expected that they will ensure that unpaid interns receive maximum hours of work protections as well as unpaid bereavement and unpaid sick leave and are protected from sexual harassment," Saxton said.

His statement was almost a word-for-word echo of an op-ed article written by Labour Minister Kellie Leitch for the Toronto Star two weeks ago. She argued then that the proposed protections "have clearly been misunderstood" by advocacy groups.

However, Cash sees the clarification as an admission by the government that measures in the budget bill don't go far enough. He intends to move amendments at committee, aimed at adding the extra protections to the legislation.


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