We all just want a job after graduation and a lot of us will do anything to get one, including working without pay. Entry-level positions are increasingly being replaced by unpaid internships. However, there are legal restrictions surrounding unpaid internships about which many students, interns and employers are not aware.
Andrew Langille is a Toronto-based lawyer
He points out that there is a test contained in the Employment Standards Act of Ontario that employers have to follow in order to offer an unpaid internship. However, few employers meet these criteria.
“It’s very difficult to meet, almost impossible.” Langille said.
The internships that are legal are ones that are directly related to your studies, the ones you get credit for. Other than that, they must meet the criteria under the Employment Standards Act.
The laws are there, but according to Langille they aren’t being enforced and as a result, interns are being exploited and employers are profiting.
“The government of Ontario really needs to take a hard look at the rise of unpaid internships in the labour market.” Langille said. “They need to start engaging in proactive enforcement of the Employment Standards Act.”
Langille explains that many are being left with no other option.
“They are being prevented from being able to access careers…getting pushed into low pay, no benefit, no future, service, hospitality or retail careers”
Andrew Cash MP for Davenport has similar views
“There’s some real abuse going on and we need to address that.” Cash said.
He adds that although laws about unpaid internships exist, the provinces don’t have the same rules and the federal government’s rules are hazy.
Young people are increasingly getting more aware of the problem and are starting to speak up but that´s not enough.
“We should not have to force young people to seek counsel in order to get paid for a job that’s clearly a job and not an internship” Cash said.
He adds that the government needs to enforce the existing rules as well as clarify them. His ‘Urban Worker Bill’ calls on the government to be stricter on companies that use unpaid interns.
Alexandra Kimball is a Toronto-based freelance writer
She has written about issues surrounding unpaid internships and has personal experiences of feeling locked out of her profession, because she couldn’t afford to work for no pay. According to her some professions are excluding a huge amount of prospective employees because of the popularity of the unpaid internship.
“The more the unpaid internship becomes the norm, the more that it replaces the entry-level job.” Kimball said.
She added that there is a fear among young workers and recent graduates surrounding internships that add to the problem.
“We’re told to do anything for the job…that creates an attitude that you’re not allowed to complain, “ said Kimball. The consequences are that people are not speaking up when they are being exploited.
Although it may seem that interns have a personal choice and they can simply say no to internships and look harder for a paid job, they wouldn’t get very far or in their profession.
“If there are no jobs in your field and you are being told the only way that you can get one is to do an internship, I don’t really see that as much of a choice.” Kimball said.
The extreme outcome of this situation is that young workers are being pushed out of their professions.
The issue is deep-rooted and multi-layered but with student and intern awareness and a more open debate hopefully the unpaid internship will soon be a thing of the past and young workers won’t have to work for free.