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Good News, Unpaid Interns: Sexual Harassment Rules Will Soon Apply To You

The Conservative government is backing down on internship rules

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Not only do unpaid interns make no salary, but federally regulated ones don't even have the basic Canada Labour Code protections that employees enjoy.

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There's no limit on how long they can work. If they're bullied or sexually harassed by a boss they can't file a complaint under the Labour Code. Instead they'd have to hire a lawyer with their nonexistent salary.

Earlier this spring the federal government killed an NDP bill to extend Labour Code protections to unpaid interns. Then when it introduced its own rules they turned out to be watered down with exemptions.

But unpaid workers are getting a break for once. On Tuesday morning the government revealed it is bowing to pressure and will treat unpaid interns like real people with basic labour code protections.

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Conservative MP Andrew Saxton said at a federal Finance Committee meeting that changes are coming. He said the earlier confusion was due to the government trying to strike a balance.

"(Unpaid interns) should receive basic benefits and protections in order not to be exploited. However, it's a balancing act," said Saxton.

"If you are too strict on employers then they may cease the internship programs altogether."

At minimum the new regulations will include sexual harassment protection, maximum hours of work protection, unpaid bereavement leave and unpaid sick leave, said Saxton.

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There are up to 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada at any given time, according to advocates such as the Canadian Intern Association. These new rules will apply to federally regulated workplaces such as banks, telecoms, airlines and broadcasters. Other workers fall under provincial rules.

The devil may still be in the details, said NDP MP Andrew Cash. For example, because the new rules are in regulation rather than law, future governments could change or reverse them without going before Parliament.

Paul McLeod is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Paul McLeod at paul.mcleod@buzzfeed.com.

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