Family of Alberta intern killed in car accident after working long hours pushes for change

Employer found not in violation of labour code’s working hours provisions, but family says code doesn’t protect unpaid interns
|employmentlawtoday.com|Last Updated: 09/09/2013

The family of an Alberta man who died in a car accident nearly two years ago believes his death was caused by being overworked at a radio stations where he interned and says new employment laws are needed to prevent a similar tragedy.

Andy Ferguson was a 22-year-old broadcasting student at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton who interned with local radio stations owned by Astral Media, as part of a four-month unpaid practicum that was part of his program. He also worked shifts as a paid intern.

In November 2011, in good weather and on a clear road, Ferguson’s car crossed the median and crashed head-on into a truck. According to his family, Ferguson was coming home after working an overnight shift following a morning shift — 16 hours of work in the previous 24 — and his exhaustion contributed to the accident.

Ferguson’s family and girlfriend claimed Astral took advantage of him and gave him long, erratic hours of work with short notice, including multiple overnight shifts. Text messages he sent seemed to indicate this was the case and that Ferguson wasn’t happy with his employer because of it.

Ferguson’s family filed a labour complaint claiming he worked more than the maximum hours under the Canada Labour Code, but an investigation found Astral didn’t violate the code since some of his work was part of his schooling placement and wasn’t covered under the law. In addition, there were discrepancies in Astral’s records as to how many hours Ferguson worked.

Now, Ferguson’s family is pressing for legislative protection for unpaid interns, and Feguson’s member of Parliament, Brent Rathberger, is taking up the cause.

“There is no doubt that he had worked considerable and I would suggest excessive hours in the days leading up to his unfortunate car accident,” Rathberger told CBC News.

Bell Media, which now owns Astral, released a statement saying staff at the radio stations were “devastated” by Ferguson’s death and they had co-operated fully with the labour investigation — which found it in compliance with the code.

But Rathberger has said he will push for legislative change on behalf of Ferguson’s family.

“He was taken advantage of," Ferguson’s brother Matt told CBC News. “If this hadn’t happened the way it happened, it might be easier to deal with. Andy wouldn’t want this to happen to somebody else.”

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