Earlier this week, Jonah Schein, MPP for Davenport and NDP GTA Issues Critic, introduced legislation that would provide unpaid interns with a range of greater legal protection. The proposed legislation would extend the provisions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA) to interns, giving them the same legal rights regarding working hours and conditions enjoyed by paid workers.

The proposed legislation would also mandate a data collection system to determine the pervasiveness of unpaid internships, create a protocol for the Ministry of Labour to deal with workplace complaints, and legislate that a poster detailing workers’ rights under the ESA be displayed in places of work. The bill had its first reading on Tuesday and was carried. It has not yet moved to committee, which is required before a second reading.

“Internships can offer valuable training opportunities for those entering the workplace, but we need to ensure that young people are getting the experiences they deserve,” Schein said, adding: “My bill will give unpaid interns greater protections under the law, and clarify the conditions of a legal internship for employees and employers alike.”

In Ontario, unpaid internships are nominally overseen by the Ministry of Labour. The ministry specifically exempts individuals who perform work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university from protection under the ESA. According to a Ministry of Labour statement: “This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.”

In a recent statement, Yasir Naqvi, Ontario’s Minister of Labour, said that he was appreciative of the NDP’s efforts. However, he pointed out that his ministry recently provided $3 million for the application of the ESA and will be executing an “enforcement blitz” this summer.

“The government knows that investing in our young people means making sure they are treated fairly on the job and we have strong rules enforcing that. Our government has been active on this file to increase awareness, proactive inspections and protections for young workers for some time,” Naqvi added.

Joshua Mandryk, a University of Toronto law student and co-chair of Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, an organization that has been demanding government action against unpaid internships, praised Schein’s bill, but added that it does not bring change quickly enough. “Unfortunately, young workers don’t have time to wait for this bill to be passed, so we want to see these measures incorporated in the 2014 Ontario budget,” he said.

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