Unpaid internships a real and growing problem

QUEEN’S PARK – Today in question period, London West MPP Peggy Sattler called on the Minister of Labour to explain his assertion that unpaid internships do not exist.

“Yesterday, the minister told reporters that unpaid internships do not exist in Ontario, and he is not sure if this is a growing problem,” said Sattler, NDP Training, Colleges, and Universities Critic. “The thousands of young people in this province who are asked to work for free after they graduate know that unpaid internships exist, and the thousands of Ontarians who agree that this government needs to take action know that the problem has increased since the recession.”

Sattler says the Minister’s attitude does not reflect the lived experience of many young workers trapped in exploitative internships.

“How can the minister deal with an issue when he refuses to acknowledge that it exists?” asked Sattler.

Earlier this week, Sattler introduced a private members bill, the Greater Protection for Interns and Vulnerable Workers Act, which would extend basic workplace protections to students and trainees who are currently exempt from the employment standards legislation. It would require the Ministry of Labour to establish an anonymous, third-party complaint system, collect data on unpaid internships, and create an interns’ bill of rights poster that employers would be required to post in the workplace.

“There are estimates that as many as 100,000 people are working as unpaid interns in Ontario,” said Sattler. “There are too many employers who are ignoring their obligations under the Employment Standards Act or are not aware of them. There are too many unpaid interns who are desperate for any kind of work experience and fearful of lodging a complaint.”

Sattler called on the government to act.

“Unpaid internships are ethically wrong and they are bad for the economy,” said Sattler. “Will the minister commit to amending the Employment Standards Act to prevent the exploitation of unpaid interns?”