Saturday, March 16, 2013

Unpaid Internships: Updated

I wrote a brief post the other day on the proliferation of unpaid internships, whose ostensible purpose is to give young people experience in a field, open up networking opportunities, and possibly lead to gainful employment in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, the chasm between the ideal and the reality is ever-widening, the result being that in many cases internships are devolving into a form of modern-day slavery.

My own ungainfully underemployed daughter, who has a master's degree yet works part-time in discount retail, has had three internships, only one of which might have led to a contract had circumstances been more propitious. The one she is currently completing has her performing such 'educational' tasks as inputting computer information, signing her boss' signature when she is 'too busy', etc., the sorts of labour that would have once been performed by an entry-level paid employee.

Many in the media are recognizing what is happening, people like Carol Goar at The Star, who wrote a solid piece the other day on the problem, as did Marco Oved, also of the Star.

Also by Oved is a story in today's paper, reporting that Ontario NDP MPP Taras Natyshak is calling on the Wynne government to properly regulate the field. My own research suggests that the problem exists largely because all parties (the 'employer', the intern, and the government) are prone to turning a blind eye to the letter of the legislation that currently govern internships, rules that can be accessed here. Although it is the law that all six rules have to be observed to allow unpaid internships, the fact is that that requirement is being widely overlooked. And the article makes clear why this is happening:

“Sure, interns have paper protections, but no intern is going to endanger their future by complaining,” said employment lawyer Andrew Langille, who writes a blog about abuses of unpaid interns. “The problem is that there’s no pro-active enforcement.”

“If the government of the day is not prepared to mandate that intern work be paid work, these workers should at least be afforded other basic rights of employment, such as a maximum on the hours of work, the ability to refuse unsafe work, etc.,” said Ottawa-based employment lawyer Sean Bawden.

While there may be some truth in Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi's assertions that sufficient protections already exist, and that anyone who feels their employment standards rights have been contravened can file a complaint ... and it will be investigated, the fact of a desperate young workforce eager curry favour in the hope of landing a job militates against that solution.

If this is allowed to continue unchecked, the insatiable work-world propensity for labour exploitation may be emboldened even further in the future.

UPDATE: For a series of thoughtful letters on the issue from Star readers, click here.


  1. The powers-that-be have systematically turned the system against labour and toward capital, Lorne. And the biggest losers are the next generation.

    1. And leaving young people and their parents to look on helplessly, Owen.


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