Our Response to a Letter from Ontario Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi

Yesterday the Canadian Intern Association received a letter from Ontario’s Minister of Labour Yasir Naqvi. Our sources tell us that a few other individuals and groups with aligned interests received the same letter.

The letter mostly just summarizes the law on unpaid internships that we are clearly already well aware of. The interesting part is the second last paragraph, which reads:

As part of the 2013 budget, the government is investing an additional $3 million annual to hire additional officers and staff to provide more proactive inspections, beginning in 2013-2014. This brings the government’s total investment to $7.5 million since 2009. The funding will be used to hire 20 new members of a dedicated enforcement team, and by 2014-2015, these officers will conduct an additional 1,400 inspection a year.

It appears the Ontario Legislature and Ministry of Labour has actually decided to invest some resources into this issue! Funding for proactive enforcement is certainly a step in the right direction, but don’t feel fooled by the numbers. The Ministry will hire 20 new enforcement officers, but those people will be enforcing employment standards for a variety of matters in the province, not just unpaid internships.

In fact, there is still no system for reporting unpaid internships, except by the intern for unpaid wages after the internship is already over. This system places too heavy a burden on interns to work for long periods of time unpaid in the hopes that the Labour Relations Board will Order their employer to pay up. Many interns will not even file a claim because they are worried about not getting a good reference or how they will be perceived by future employers.

We would like to thank Minister Naqvi and his staff for preparing this letter and showing some effort on addressing this issue. Despite this, next year there will likely still be tens of thousands interns working for free in Ontario when they should be receiving at least the minimum wage.

If you are an intern in Ontario and would like to receive minimum wage from your employer for the hours that you worked in your unpaid internship, check out our Claim Back Your Pay page.


MP Andrew Cash joins the fight against unpaid internships

In today’s Question Period the Honourable Andrew Cash (MP for Davenport, ON) raised the issue of precarious employment and unpaid internships. Cash noted that there are many reputable internship programs in Canada wherein profitable companies have turned to the exploitation of young workers.

With recent graduates carrying an average student debt load of $28,000, Cash noted that an increasing number of these young people are required to work for free before finding paid work in their field. Cash called out the government for turning a blind eye to the misuse of unpaid internships by Canadian companies as youth unemployment worsens.

Finally, Cash stated that the issue of unpaid internships is but one reason that the MP will be tabling an Urban Worker Bill that will among other things, call on the government to crack down on the misuse of unpaid internships. He concluded by urging the government to finally take the issue of youth unemployment in Canada seriously and asked for its support for the Urban Worker Bill.

We here at the Canadian Intern Association would like to say a huge thank you, to the Honourable Andrew Cash for joining us in the fight against illegal unpaid internships. Further, we look forward to working towards next steps collectively following Claire Seaborn’s meeting with you last Friday.

MP Scott Brison Continues to Stand up for Unpaid Interns

The Honourable Scott Brison, Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants, Nova Scotia was back in the boxing ring this week and kept the issue of unpaid internships on the Parliamentary agenda after first mentioning it in Question Period last week.

This Thursday, Brison asked the new Governor of the Bank of Canada Stephen Poloz, on his perspective regarding unpaid internships. Brison asked Poloz to elaborate on the potential economic consequences of unpaid internships and their impact on equality of opportunity.

Though instructed to answer briefly, Poloz seemed to stumble on his response and did not acknowledge the economic and socioeconomic factors that Brison highlighted. Poloz was only able to say that in the case of his own children, that the experiences they accumulated (assuming unpaid) proved to be of value once they secured paid work.

Once again, we thank the Honourable Scott Brison for continuing to discuss the issue of unpaid internships and encourage meaningful discussion amongst MPs from all party lines.

Canadian Politician Asks Federal Government To Track Unpaid Internships Through Statistics Canada

The issue of unpaid internships has finally made it to Canada’s Parliament; during yesterday’s Question Period, Scott Brison (MP for Kings-Hants, NS) explained that students and recent graduates are forced to take on unpaid internships to gain work experience – causing a financial strain on these young people and their families.

Brison also stressed the lack of data on unpaid internships and that it is difficult to address the issue as “you can’t manage what you don’t measure.” As such, Brison encouraged the Government to begin tracking unpaid internships through Statistics Canada – a suggestion that we recently discussed.

The Canadian Intern Association encourages the Government to track unpaid internships through Statistics Canada and we hope that in the mean time, the issue of unpaid internships continues to be discussed in political fora, both federally and sub-federally. We would also like to thank MP Scott Brison for his support and bringing the issue to Parliament.

Young workers to employers: isn’t our work worth at least the minimum wage?

The other day, while perusing online job boards, I came across Fairmont Royal York Hotel’s posting for a Housekeeping Intern in Toronto. I also stumbled upon Four Seasons’ postings for a Food and Beverage InternGlobal Analytics Intern, and all their other postings. Initially I scoffed and thought here we go again, more illegal internships. But after reading through the postings I soon realized that they actually aren’t illegal, in spite of how certain I was that they were likely to be.

Fairmont’s internship isn’t illegal because it requires that the successful candidate obtain WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) coverage through his/her school – something that would likely only happen if the student were taking part in the internship to fulfill some sort of program requirement. In the case of Four Seasons, they explicitly state that only candidates enrolled in a related co-operative program “requiring a co-op placement or internship term for program completion, will be considered.” And, if we look to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act on the Ministry of Labour’s website we find that:

The ESA does not apply to an individual who performs work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university. This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.

For this reason, Fairmont and Four Seasons do not make our Name and Shame Wall. At the same time, I can’t help but ask: why won’t Fairmont, Four Seasons and every other multi-million dollar company pay its interns? Companies like Fairmont and Four Seasons are certainly in a position to do so and it is particularly bothersome that companies that offer luxury services or products for presumably wealthier clients opt not to pay their interns. Further, from a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is in the interest of companies to compensate their interns with at least the minimum wage due to the inequality that unpaid internships perpetuate. Otherwise, companies aren’t living up to their claims that they are in fact “equal opportunity employers.”

Indeed, an intern working and living in Toronto or any other city where living costs are higher would likely find it difficult to make ends meet without some form of support where possible (whether it be his/her own savings or loved ones). And, I don’t think I have to mention that a student’s school loans often also add to the mix.

In a perfect world companies that provide young people with an opportunity to gain practical knowledge and skills in the workplace would not stop short of extending the benefits that come with a job to their interns – the minimum wage, at the very least. We here at the Canadian Intern Association encourage companies to genuinely invest in young talent instead of checking off that they’ve met all the conditions outlined in the Employment Standards Act – another piece to this puzzle that may need some attention.