The Injustice of Unpaid Internship


An Unpaid internship is a form of work where an individual gains work experience in areas that are relevant to the field of work in which the intern is studying for future employment. While each province establishes the law the three main categories are:

  1. Internship is part of an approved secondary school program.
  2. Internship provides training for certain professions.
  3. The intern is considered a ``trainee`` and meets the following conditions.
    1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
    2. The training is for the benefit of the intern.
    3. The employer derives little, if any benefit from the activity of the intern during training.
    4. Your training doesn`t take someone else`s job.
    5. Your employer isn`t promising you a job at the end of the training.
    6. You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.
While this all sounds good, there is a real injustice related to unpaid interns in Canada. Unpaid internships may work well for a student from a family without any financial concerns but for students already struggling to cover the normal expenses of attending college or university, this opportunity to gain this experience can be difficult. Employers also use unpaid interns to save paying for certain basic work. Businesses can also suffer by using unpaid or low wage employees as it often leads to under achieving staff which has little interest in the importance of creating a positive public character for the company. There are several reasons to advocate for changes regarding unpaid interns or the elimination of the position. There are some obvious reasons for us to support action regarding unpaid interns which include:

No pay supports poverty.
No pay positions for even simple web searching saves time from other paid employees which otherwise would require employers to have more staff.
No pay may prevent the ability of timely repayment of student loans which may lead to default on the loan and a bad credit rating.
No pay puts people at risk of financial crisis since they would be denied any health care coverage offered to paid employees.
No pay positions in some cases do not offer real or true on the job training but rather a watch and experience opportunity.
There is also an example of how an unpaid internship affects a student from a financially stable family vs. a low income family. Please read the attachment titled... Imagine This story.

What can SSVP DO?

We can advocate for changes in the ESA (Employment Standards Act) in Canada by gathering and distributing information that applies to each province and encourage appropriate action by contacting provincial governments while also educating our membership about this issue. If Unpaid internships remain the interns deserve to have protection from sexual harassment, controls over excessive hours, right of refusal for dangerous work and possibly health benefits. There could of course also be paid internships or apprenticeships becoming more available.

We would like to ask for a motion of the national board of directors that the social justice committee take appropriate actions as listed above which can provide educational material to our membership with a recommendation that we support needed changes.

I would like to thank Mike Chomyshyn of Kingsville, Ontario and President of the Essex East Particular Council.

Please read article below titled: IMAGINE THIS.

Imagine This (A scenario for unpaid internship)

Two students attending York University in Toronto; both are studying journalism and both are in their final year of studies. Both are doing very well and are at the top of their classes with very high GPAs. Both, of course, are hoping for a career with a renowned Canadian news agency, and both apply for the same position at several network stations in Toronto. These are among their similarities; and now for their differences.

Student A attended classes at York, lived in shared student housing off campus and funded his education with past summer jobs at his family home in Dresden Ontario, and student OSAP loans.

Student B attended classes at York, lived in shared student housing off campus and funded his education with past summer employment from the family home in North York Ontario, and student OSAP loans.

Both these students are lucky enough to both be offered an opportunity to work at CJJJ national television newsroom as journalism in training. Both are offered these positions as unpaid interns.

Student B accepts the position. Moving out of his student residence, relocating back at home in north York, he commutes to the studio workplace daily and hopes that the experience will help him find a paying position with another network at the end of a six month internship. Hopefully, he will not have to take on a second or third unpaid internship position while still looking for a start at a real career opportunity.

Student A, however, must decline the opportunity to work for free at network CJJJ. His savings from prior summer employment has long been gone, and the OSAP loans he obtained covered tuition, books, rent and groceries for the past 8 months (final year). There is no OSAP funding provided to cover additional months of housing while not attending classes as a full time student. Without a source of funding, there is no opportunity to pay for housing and food and other expenses. Without pay for the work he would be doing, there is no opportunity to pay for housing and food and other expenses. There is just no opportunity for student A to accept an unpaid internship in Toronto at this point in his life.

So where is the equity in this? Is it not obvious to employers that this system is not a level playing field for all students? Do the employers even care? Well we all should care!

Submitted by
Jim Paddon