April 29, 2014 8:04 pm

Sask. interns to be paid, student learners exempt

REGINA – Saskatchewan’s Employment Act says interns should have the same rights as employees, including a minimum wage.

“An intern (previously) could be virtually anybody that has some kind of learning component to their employment,” said labour minister Don Morgan.

That’s exactly the kind of vague term the government wants to redefine.

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“We’ve said, interns, you’re going to get paid,” Morgan said. “Ones that would not get paid would be a student learner, where it’s part of their course or employment.”

For example, teaching or exercise therapy practicums would be classified as student learners – even though they sometimes do the same job as employees.

A key difference is oversight.

“They have to be doing this under the supervision of someone,” said Harold Riemer, the University of Regina kinesiology and health sciences dean. “An employer couldn’t hire one of our students and let them do that job without that direct supervision in place.”

Over 100 U of R kinesiology students gain work experience each year. The students choose their own learning objective, Riemer says.

But if they were paid?

“Then the organization dictates what those experiences need to be,” he said. Riemer believes many unpaid field placements in the health sciences would “dry up” if the positions came with a salary.

But labour groups say even the smallest organizations should have to pay up.

“I think if you work for an employer you should get compensated,” said Larry Hubich, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president.

Even in a learning environment, the employer is in charge, Hubich says.

“We expect students to be ready to hit the ground running into the workplace. Where’s the responsibility for employers to actually do some of the on-the-job training for their workforce of the future?”

Educators argue that employers are full partners in the student work experience, saying the same opportunity can’t always be offered in the classroom.

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