Intern’s brother hopes new bill will stop abuse
OTTAWA—The NDP is hoping to end the “Wild West” exploitation of unpaid interns with a new private member’s bill that would cap the hours an intern can work for federally-regulated employers.
The bill—to be introduced today by NDP MP Lairin Liu—would grant interns the right to refuse dangerous work.
Matt Ferguson, brother of 22-year-old Andy Ferguson, who died in a head-on collision in 2011 after working excessive hours as an unpaid intern at a radio station in Alberta, is supporting the legislation.
Ferguson said he’s convinced his brother’s death was the result of being forced to work for too many hours, regardless of whether he was unpaid.
And he added any law that prevents interns from being over-used by an employer is a huge step in the right direction.
“[My brother] was kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Ferguson said in an interview.
“I think there has to be something . . . that outlines what [interns] are allowed to do and what they’re not allowed to do just so they can’t be taken advantage of,” he stressed.
Andy Ferguson’s car struck a gravel truck head-on in November, 2011 after he had worked a morning shift, and then all night, at an Edmonton radio station.
The NDP bill is limited to federally-regulated workplaces and would not affect interns working in businesses or government institutions regulated by the provinces.
But it’s better than having no protections at all, which is what currently exists, said Andrew Cash, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Liu.
“There’s many employers that take this very seriously; there’s very good programs set up through universities and colleges,” noted Cash.
“But it is a bit of a ‘Wild West’ out there in that . . . if you are working at an internship program, you’re at the whims of an employer who is not paying you,” he added.
“And sometimes that has turned, in some cases, tragic.”
The use of unpaid interns has been hotly-debated both in Canada and the U.S., where some young people work for free—often for months at a time—in the hope that their internship either will give them experience in the workplace or turn into a paid job.
Saskatchewan and Ontario recently cracked down on unpaid internships while calls have escalated in Alberta for that province to do the same.
Ontario, for example, considers interns to be employees that must be paid unless an employer meets strict conditions, or if the intern is a college or university student.
In B.C., unpaid internships are illegal unless the internship provides “hands-on” training as part of a formal educational program, or for certain professions such as law or engineering.
Several American states also have enacted tougher measures against unpaid internships.
And Britain recently banned the practice outright.