TORONTO, Dec. 4, 2013 /CNW/ - The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) is supportive of the provincial government's announcement of the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act that would extend extend greater workplace protections to university students participating in for-credit, unpaid co-op placements via changes to Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).
"Co-op students are deserving of the same protections as other employees in Ontario," said Amir Eftekarpour, OUSA President and Vice-President External of the University Students' Council of Western University. "Currently, students participating in unpaid co-ops through an Ontario university are not covered under the OHSA because the Act defines a worker as an individual who performs work or supplies services for monetary compensation."
Recent data compiled from university multi-year accountability agreement report backs show that in 2011-2012 there were approximately 41,000 co-op students in Ontario. In OUSA's 2011 Ontario Post-Secondary Student Survey, 45 per cent of student respondents identified that they would be participating in a for-credit co-op or work-study placements over the course of their degrees.
"The Ministry of Labour's proposed changes to the OHSA will ensure that Ontario's co-op students are entitled to the right to be informed of hazards in their work environments, the right to representation on health and safety committees, and the right to refuse unsafe work,' continued Eftekarpour.
Although students are pleased to see that progress is being made to extend co-op students protections under the OHSA, students remain concerned about the lack of protections for students in work experiences provided through a post-secondary institution, and the Ministry's enforcement of Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA) for postgraduate unpaid internships. In his announcement of the Stronger Workplaces for a Stronger Economy Act, Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi stated that he would be bringing together stakeholders to develop strategies for increasing awareness of and improving enforcement of the ESA. OUSA called for greater enforcement and promotion of the ESA in its September government submission, Youth Employment: Re-imagining the link between labour and learning.
"Estimates of the number of unpaid internships in Canada range from 100,000 to 300,000 positions," said Allison Williams, OUSA Steering Committee Member and Academic Affairs Commissioner of the Alma Mater Society of Queen's University. "Students firmly believe that any individual who performs work should receive compensation. Poor enforcement of the ESA has meant that many graduates in Ontario are engaged in illegal unpaid internships that deny them wages, fair working hours, and overtime and holiday compensation."
About the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA)
OUSA represents the interests of over 140,000 professional and undergraduate, full- and part-time university students at eight member associations across Ontario.
SOURCE: Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance
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