For many students and postgraduates, the summer is time to work an internship, many of which are unpaid and have come to replace entry-level positions. The unpaid intern is instead “paid in experience.”

 

Students tend to view internships as a regular step in the process to employment post graduation, often working more than two or three internships before finding employment in an entry-level position.


This logic “speaks to some naivety,” said Andrew Langille, labour lawyer and founder of Toronto-based Youth and Work.


Langille, along with a series of groups that have voiced concerns about unpaid internships, is glad to see that their struggle has led to a government crackdown or “inspection blitz” on various internship programs in Ontario.

 

The enforcement began in March and has caused many companies to end their internship programs completely. Many students view the effects of the crackdown as an end to employment opportunities and resume padding, but Langille stresses the importance of its long-term effects. The enforcement is hugely significant in its ability to “renormalize parts of the Ontario labour market,” he said.

 

While what Langille calls the “inspection blitz” might lead to complaints from students, the crackdown aims to ameliorate the economic and social situation.


Arguments for enforcement lie on the premise that unpaid internships are illegal outside the context of academic programs. “In the context of after-graduation or summer [students] should not be working unpaid internships. They are largely illegal,” said Langille.

 

He notes three harmful effects that unpaid internships have on Ontario’s labour market, and on society more generally.

 

First, people working for free devalues labour market conditions. Especially in professions like law or journalism, where it seems like having an unpaid internship on your resume is necessary to really set foot in the industry, the work itself is becoming devalued.

 

Second, they strengthen the glass ceiling. A student’s ability to engage in free labour depends on parental wealth. Students from wealthier backgrounds gain an advantage in the labour market over others, because unpaid internships “impact marginalized groups and segments of the population who are traditionally unable to engage in unpaid labour for prolonged periods,” said Langille. From an equity perspective, unpaid internships are a societal concern.

 

Third, unpaid internships and intern culture create a biased gender dynamic. Langille cites the role of popular culture in normalizing internships as a right of passage for women today. For example, television series “The Hills and Seventeen Magazine have really glamorized the unpaid internship.” The problem with this glamorization is that it is not true. “At the core unpaid internships are really just wage discrimination,” said Langille.

 

In the future, Langille sees large companies like Rogers offering paid internships. “The era of having unlimited unpaid labour for the young is over,” he said. New models for internships are also likely to be developed. As a big proponent of work-integrated learning, Langille considers the University of Waterloo’s Co-op program as the ideal model.

 

When thinking of the near future students ought to know their rights in order to improve their bargaining position in the workplace, said Langille.

comments powered by Disqus