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Interns bill a good first step, Unifor says

OTTAWA, Feb. 17, 2015 /CNW/ - A private member's bill that is up for second reading in the House of Commons today is a much-needed step in efforts to end the exploitation of unpaid interns in Canada, but more needs to be done, Canada's largest union in the private sector says.

"Young people need and deserve real jobs on which they can build their lives, contribute to society and maybe even pay off the massive debts they've built getting their education," Unifor National President Jerry Dias said.

Unifor is calling for all parties to support the bill.

Today's bill from NDP MP Laurin Liu, however, only applies to federally regulated employers such as telecommunications, financial institutions and transportation. Many more young people work in provincially regulated sectors, and also need proper protections.

"It is time for the provinces to step up and bring in similar legislation," Dias said. "We cannot allow our young people to be exploited in unpaid internships."

Such legislation needs to treat interns like any other employees, with the full protection of labour laws around health and safety, work standards and wages.

Dias called on the federal government to work with the provinces to ensure a national standard for internships, as well as clear rules governing work terms, co-op programs and field placements for students.

"Too many of our young people have been betrayed by seemingly endless strings of unpaid internships just when they are trying to get their lives started," Dias said.

On-the-job training can be an important part of a young person's education, and Unifor has negotiated numerous contracts across Canada to ensure that any such internship or workplace co-op programs are truly educational and are not a source of cheap labour.

"Anyone who works should be paid for their work," Dias said. "To do otherwise is not only exploitive, but bad for the economy. It reduces consumer spending and tax revenue to pay for the services on which we all rely."

Last fall, Unifor worked with the Canadian Federation of Students and other groups to host the Good Jobs Summit, bringing together stakeholders from labour, education and business to look for ways to establish good jobs for young people.

Unifor is Canada's largest union in the private sector, representing more than 305,000 workers. It was formed Labour Day weekend 2013 when the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union merged.