Protecting Students Against Unfair Unpaid Internships

On November 9th, 2017, CASA's Executive Director, Michael McDonald, presented on the unfair and often exploitative nature of unpaid internships to the Government of Canada's Finance Committee.

You can watch the full presentation or read the transcript below:

Good evening, Mr. Chair, esteemed committee members, fellow witnesses, and members of the gallery.

My name is Michael McDonald, and I am executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, otherwise known as CASA. Thank you for your invitation to speak about Bill C-63.

Broadly speaking, CASA was pleased see the continued investments in students in budget 2017. We were especially encouraged by new supports for first nations and Inuit learners, expanded access to grants for students with dependents and for part-time students, and new rules on unpaid internships.

For the remainder of my time, I am going to be focusing on the proposed amendments on unpaid internships, which are part of this bill. This move fits with the broader efforts to make Canadian workplaces more modern, inclusive, and effective. We applaud, for example, the framework announced a few days ago to fight harassment and sexual violence in the public service and in federally regulated workplaces.

Tens of thousands of students work in federal government jobs and in federally regulated sectors each year. Alongside all their colleagues, they deserve a safe and respectful workplace that allows them to thrive. For the same reason, we support Bill C-63's proposed changes to ban uncompensated internships.

At CASA we are firm supporters of quality work experience for students. Recent research links participation in co-op programs with higher pay and better jobs after graduation. Surveyed students who did co-ops as part of their studies give their overall post-secondary education experience better reviews than those who did not, and employers also speak highly of the skills and job readiness of co-op graduates.

While we know that the quality of work experience pays off for students and employers, uncompensated experiences do not. An American study found that far more graduates who did unpaid internships did not land jobs as compared to those who did do paid internships. Indeed, an unpaid experience did virtually nothing to improve job prospects, according to a recent study by the Canadian Internship Association.

The likely explanation is simple: when an employer is invested in the experience, they give the student more attention, more responsibilities, and more opportunities.

Ultimately, we would like all internship experiences to be paid. However, we do recognize that compensation in the form of credit is better than no compensation at all, and Bill C-63 proposes to end unpaid internships in federally regulated sectors except when those internships are part of formal education programs. We support this move, as it is an important measure to promote high-quality work experiences and safety and to fairly compensate young workers.

We recognize that like paid internships, quality is generally also higher for work experiences that are built into formal post-secondary education programs, and we support the budget 2017 promises to ensure that all interns, including those working for credit in formal programs, receive labour standard protections. Moreover, we think it's important to highlight that unpaid interns tend to be far more prevalent in fields that are dominated by women. We think this is particularly problematic and we hope it is something that this bill addresses.

Another important consideration is for students from low-income backgrounds who have less flexibility when it comes to choosing between experience that might help them now and paying their bills.

We are pleased with the steps taken by the budget to protect interns; therefore, we will continue to be advocating for federal investment in new paid work opportunities for students. This is why we're a big supporter of some of the work-integrated learning opportunities that have been presented most recently.

We'll continue to support high-quality compensated student work experiences. We are pleased to see the changes presented in the bill and we think it's moving in the right direction.

Thank you.



The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations advocates for better post-secondary education and aims to improve the lives of students. L'Alliance canadienne des associations étudiantes défend les intérêts des étudiant(e)s.
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Protecting Students Against Unfair Unpaid Internships
Protecting Students Against Unfair Unpaid Internships
@CASAACAE unites and amplifies the voices of post-secondary students across Canada. Find out more!