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October 19, 2016

Presentation to the Standing Committee on the Legislative Assembly

October 19, 2016 

 My name is Ahmad Gaied, and I am the Executive Vice President of the Ontario Federation of Labour. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill 64: Protecting Interns and Creating a Learning Economy Act, 2016. Also joining me today is Thevaki Thevaratnam, Director of Research and Education at the OFL.

The OFL represents approximately 54 unions and 1 million workers here in Ontario.

We advocate on behalf of all working people. One of our largest initiatives to date is the Make It Fair campaign. We’re mobilizing labour unions across the province to fight for meaningful changes to Ontario’s labour and employment laws—in solidarity with the Fight for $15 and Fairness campaign.

Part of this advocacy involves pushing for better working conditions, for more permanent full-time work with good wages and benefits, and for greater access to joining and keeping a union.

We need to create a legislative framework for decent work in Ontario. To do this, the OFL will continue to work alongside our partners towards changes that will benefit all Ontario families and workers. But, community and labour activists cannot do this alone. We need government and the opposition parties to recognize their part in this too.

The OFL is pleased to see that through initiatives, such as the Changing Workplaces Review, the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel, and of course, Bill 64, there is widespread acknowledgment that we not only need to significantly change the minimum standards for decent work in Ontario, but we must also create the conditions for vulnerable workers, including youth, to access those standards.

CURRENT LANDSCAPE

Students, who have graduated from a post-secondary institution, understandably want to find a job that relates to the field that they spent years studying. For those that are able to secure a job, most find themselves in something akin to a ‘survival job’.

More often than not, these jobs are temporary – meaning that they tend to pay lower wages, offer fewer workplace benefits, are less likely to offer on-the-job training, and are more precarious in nature.

The mismatch between labour supply and demand and the underinvestment in workplace training contributes to graduate unemployment and underemployment. Many Ontarians are having a hard time finding work, while many employers are unable to find workers with the right qualifications. According to a 2013 Conference Board of Canada report, this gap is costing Ontario more than $24 billion in lost economic activity.

Also, because of increasing mobility in today’s workforce—where people move from job to job to job—businesses are demanding that new hires already have the necessary skills or obtain them elsewhere.

In fact, according to the Conference Board of Canada, in 2010, Canadian corporations spent 40 per cent less on learning and development per employee compared to the early-1990s. As we’ve seen, in the absence of traditional workplace training, the onus to teach job skills has fallen more and more to our colleges and universities.

To ensure that students are able to successfully transition from school to the workplace, learning should extend beyond the classroom.

As MPP Sattler recognizes in her Bill, there is tremendous value in ensuring that postsecondary students are able to participate in at least one experiential learning opportunity before they graduate.

For students, this allows them to determine their fit with a potential career while gaining practical work experience to enhance their employability. For employers, it’s an opportunity to upskill the workforce and screen potential new hires.

Before we can reach a goal, where all students are able to participate in meaningful and paid work-integrated learning, there are certain foundational steps that need to be established.

BILL 64 – SCHEDULE 1

Bill 64 rightly identifies the need for labour market partners and actors—including government, educators, business, and labour—to work together. It establishes an Advisory Council that will provide recommendations on how to effectively increase the number and quality of work-integrated learning opportunities in Ontario. The OFL would welcome an opportunity to participate on this council.

In fact, as noted in our submission to the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Expert Panel, the OFL advocates for a permanent Labour Market Partners Forum to provide policy recommendations on a broad range of labour market development issues and opportunities, including employment strategies and training.

This Forum also allows for the creation of working groups to deliver on specific issues, such as work integrated learning.

BILL 64 – SCHEDULE 2

Bill 64 also addresses the fact that students that perform work as part of a university or college placement as well as interns/trainees, who are referred to as “persons receiving training”, are among those excluded from the Employment Standards Act. This Act is meant to establish the minimum employment standards and protections for workers across the province.

Because of the broad definition of ESA exemptions listed under Section 3(5), many employers have tweaked their internship programs to ensure that they only hire interns who are working as part of a postsecondary placement. There is also a growing trend towards employers characterizing their unpaid workers as “volunteers” or “volunteer interns”.

In this way, employers are able to avoid the direct financial costs of ESA compliance, including vacation, public holiday, and overtime pay—not to mention paying these workers a wage at all. In fact, on average, there are approximately 100,000 unpaid and unregulated internships in Ontario each year.

The OFL believes that opportunities for practical training should be provided – under the legal protection of the ESA.

Regardless of a person’s employment status or their age, there is a value attached to work. Their time, their effort, their skill, and their responsibility must be respected and valued in the labour market. People should therefore be paid for their work—even while being trained.

We thank the member from London-West for introducing this very important bill, which will help protect interns who are incredibly vulnerable to exploitation.

We hope that based on the value of this bill and its potential to create a more prosperous and fairer economy, that it will receive all-party support and pass through the legislative process quickly.

COPE 343

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