Update: this is an old post with a really incomplete understanding of internship rules (which are murky at best). In a lot of places, rules about things like internships don't apply to political parties or other non-profits. For example, the famous US Department of Labor rules are applied to “for-profit” private sector employers only. So I don't want to imply that this particular politician has done something wrong in a legal sense. Though we as a company, do think that internships should be restricted to students only - and so we would be opposed to any placement open to non-students. There really are a limited number of good internship opportunities available and they should be kept open for the people they were designed for - i.e. students who need a place to learn. In the 5 or 10 minutes each day in which I am not running this company, I contribute to a few different websites. One of those is called the Western Standard. I wrote a piece from them today about internship laws in BC and Ontario. As part of that I had the chance to speak to a few people on the subject and I thought that it might be useful to put that post up here:
Is the law too complex for lawmakers to understand?
At some point tomorrow, the Jaworski family will be heading to court to learn their fate. They're in trouble because of one person's interpretation of some local bylaws. Those out there who oppose them have been saying that it would be nothing for them to do their homework, navigate through those bylaws and go and get the proper permits.
But really, how easy is it for a business to stay within the letter of the law? There's always something out there you're missing. And it's not just businesses that have trouble navigating all of these laws, rules, regulations, bylaws - even parliamentarians can be tripped up by them.
As an example, let me point to Vancouver-Quadra MP, Joyce Murray. Ms Murray is not the kind of person you would think would have trouble figuring out the rules. For one, she's a former cabinet minister.
But visit her site, and you'll see a posting for an unpaid internship. One open to: "Students, full or part-time, as well as recent graduates" (emphasis added).
And there is the problem. Now I'm sure the majority of the readers of this blog would take no issue with an individual, in school or not, contracting to do an unpaid internship with a company. Both sides benefit, the intern gets a chance to break into an industry in which they're interested, the company benefits from skilled and motivated people who are willing to try anything.
Unfortunately the government doesn't see it that way. Here in BC, the Employment Standards Act (ESA) says of internships, that in order for them to be exempt from the ESA, and thus exempt from minimum wage rules, they must be - "“hands-on” training that is required by the curriculum, and will result in a certificate or diploma.". To quote York University employment law professor, Dr David Doorey "So that’s easy: if the internship is part of a higher education co-op program, then the Act does not apply."
I exchanged emails with Dr. Doorey on this over the weekend. He agreed that the issue is very complex, but added:
My sense is that there are a whole lot of employees in Canada being improperly labeled "interns" by their employers so that the employer can avoid employment law statutes.
Looking again at the definitions above*, a 'recent graduate' is not a student, and not a participant in a program of higher education. In which case an unpaid internship for them would not be permitted. According to the ESA's of both BC and Ontario, this potential intern would likely be considered an 'employee', and in that case would need to be paid at least minimum wage.
Go back to Ms Murray's internship description and you'll see that the intern will receive a $300 honourarium at the end of their placement. The placement is 12 weeks long, for a minimum of 8 hours per week, meaning that this potential 'employee' will expect to receive the equivalent of ... $3.12 per hour. BC's minimum wage is low - it's not that low though.
Now is paying an employee $3.12 per hour exploitation? A libertarian, naturally, would say 'no'. If you can find someone who will work for that, then great for both of you. But I would imagine a Liberal parliamentarian would see it differently. After all, as we have recently seen, Liberals aren't keen on libertarianism - it's just for 'Peter Pans' after all.
The point of this isn't to hurl insults at Joyce Murray. It is to point out how terribly complex the law is, how difficult it is to obey in full and how anyone, even a former cabinet minister / current Member of Parliament could get tripped up by it.
FYI: Joyce Murray's office got back to me with this:
"It is certainly not my intention, or Ms. Murray’s, to violate BC’s Employment Standards. Please see the modified link below: http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/uncategorized/joyce-murray-mp%E2%80%99s-internship-program/"
The link shows a change to their program to bring it within the letter of the law. If we have to have all of these obscure little rules, that's precisely how to deal with violations of them. No drama, no $50,000 fines, just say sorry, fix it, and promise to follow the rules next time. If it's good enough for parliamentarians ...