If you are reading this you probably know that last week the Ontario Ministry of Labour has cracked down on internships in the magazine industry (more here).
I have been doing a lot of interviews on the Canadian Intern Association’s response to the crackdowns, so I thought I would put my comments all in one place.
1. The crackdowns were no surprise to us. On July 21, 2013 I sent an email to then Labour Minister Naqvi’s policy advisor requesting that Ontario’s employment laws be enforced against several unpaid internships. I attached 15 unpaid internship advertisements, including ones for Toronto Life magazine. Indeed, we have been lobbying for proactive enforcement for almost two years and are very pleased that the Ministry of Labour has taken action. We were not the only ones to bring the magazine industry internships to the Ministry of Labour’s attention, but we hope we helped.
2. The Ministry of Labour did not “shut down” any internship programs. Magazine industry and media responses to the crackdowns often state that the Ministry of Labour “shut down” the magazine internship programs. This is misrepresentative and misleading. Toronto Life and the Walrus have been told they must pay their interns at least the minimum wage OR partner with an educational institution if they want to keep their interns unpaid. The magazine companies should always have been aware of these basic employment laws. They made their own decision to end their internship programs.
3. We are glad other magazines have followed suit. This morning the Rogers-owned publications announced they will be modifying their internship programs to comply with employment laws (read here). Again, media has portrayed this as a “shut down” when in fact they have kept all unpaid interns who are doing their internships for course credit.
4. Employers should not be allowed to “pay in experience.” This comment is a direct response to an article by Andrew Coyne: “Government crackdown on unpaid internships hurt interns the most” where he wrote:
They’re called “unpaid” but they’re not, really: they pay in experience. The same is true of paid internships: whatever nominal amount they pay in cash is dwarfed by the experience they provide. No one puts a gun to the head of the people, most of them quite young, who take these positions. They do so because what they get out of it is worth what they put in — worth it to them, that is. It is an entirely subjective, personal valuation.
They’d obviously prefer to be paid, just as people in paying jobs would prefer to be paid more. But as that option is currently unavailable to them, they choose to work as interns.
Based on this statement, Coyne does not believe minimum wage should exist. Interns at Toronto Life and the Walrus did much of the same work as employees and they are entitled to compensation. If those interns really were just learning, again, the employers could easily partner with a journalism school and develop a truly educational program. The entire unpaid internship concept raises serious questions about why Canada’s businesses refuse to invest in young workers.
Additionally, the “no one put a gun to their head” argument makes no sense in time of high youth unemployment and a hard to access job market. Sure the interns signed up for it, but in employment law nobody can agree to be paid less than minimum wage. Furthermore, unpaid internships have become essentially the only way to access certain industries, including journalism and publishing. Coyne completely ignores that people without the connections or finances to do unpaid internships have become blocked from entering entire professions.
Finally, Coyne explains that the programs are “oversubscribed” and therefore the interns are not being exploited. He states that “The government claims to have been acting “on a complaint,” but it sure didn’t come from the interns.” The burden certainly should not be on interns to enforce employment laws. We have received dozens of e-mails from interns who would like to speak about but do not want to risk tarnishing their reputation. The Ministry of Labour must act on anonymous complaints if it is going to appropriately respond to the power imbalance that exists between interns, employers, and law enforcement.