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Canada New rules governing unpaid interns in federally-regulated sectors released

Unpaid interns in federally regulated industries are getting closer to having some of the same labour protections paid employees get.

They include standard protections like 40-hour work weeks, holidays, maternity-related reassignments and leave. On top of that, the new regulations would add new protections, like unpaid breaks for every five hours worked and an eight-hour rest period between shifts.

The federal government posted the proposed rules under laws that extended standard health and safety protections to unpaid interns in federally regulated private businesses and limited those internships to placements that are part of educational courses. They’re up for 30 days of public comment.

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Federally regulated private sectors include activities like banking, telecommunications and some areas of transportation, but not the federal civil service. A 2015 survey found there were 2,346 unpaid interns in these sectors.

Despite the small numbers, one organization consulted on the legislation says the regulations will help reduce exploitive unpaid internships elsewhere as well.

“It sets clear standards that people within the federal jurisdiction will be paid for their work,” said Hassan Yussuff, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Yussuff said his organization is “deeply worried” that other provincial and territorial jurisdictions don’t have regulations dealing with unpaid interns, but he hopes they will learn from the federal regulations.

Yussuff noted that allowing unpaid internships only if the interns get educational credit for their work experience strikes a balance between compensating students and allowing them to have good learning experiences in the private sector.

“The first thing 1/8 students3/8 should learn is that if you’re going to work, you should get paid. Nobody should expect that somebody is going to come perform their labour for free. We live in 2019, so those days are long gone,” Yussuff said.

The rules would require an employer to collect paperwork from each intern’s school explaining just how the work placement fits into an education program and how many hours they’re supposed to put in.

The chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, a student advocacy group, said the exception the government created for educational internships is not the ideal outcome for students.

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“At the end of the day, that’s not as good as getting paid for that work,” said Adam Brown, a student at the University of Alberta, adding students face increasing costs for postsecondary education.

“However, at least they’re getting something out if it,” he said. “We always want to keep moving to make sure students are monetarily paid for their work.”

Eliminating unpaid internships in federally regulated environments was a Liberal campaign promise in 2015.

Legislation to do it was delayed until December 2017 because labour groups, student unions and others representing interns said the protections weren’t strong enough in the Liberals’ first attempt.

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