Picture this: you’re scrolling down Indeed, aimlessly searching for a job that fits your criteria—or more accurately, a job where you meet the criteria. Your eyes land on something that almost sounds too good to be true.
Eagerly, you click on the posting and, with hope, cross your fingers. You’re gleeful as you read the responsibilities and requirements—they’re all things you can actually do. Suddenly, you read the last line of the post: “This is an unpaid internship, but we reward our interns with exposure and experience!” As if exposure and experience can put food on the table, pay the rent, or a massive amount of bills.
On Jan. 16, the Journalism Student Association (JSA) voted in favour of going on a week-long strike against unpaid internships. Some of the goals of this protest, outlined by the JSA, are to pressure the Quebec government to include interns in its Labour Code, and to send a message to Concordia that they are opposed to mandatory, unpaid internships, specifically, the journalism course JOUR 450.
Of course, striking and protesting against unpaid internships isn’t a radical idea. In November 2018, more than 50,000 Quebec students went on strike against unpaid internships, according to CBC News. The protest highlighted how Quebec’s labour laws don’t protect student interns, who are often exploited and left without remuneration. Those of us who are familiar with unpaid internships are well aware of the many downsides that come with embarking on one. But it seems that there are a lot of students out there who don’t really know about unpaid internships—or more importantly, why they suck.
When news broke of the JSA voting in favour of the strike, many anonymous students took to the Spotted: Concordia Facebook page to vent about how much they disagree with the strike. Specifically, one post mentioned that the university can’t do much about journalism students’ unpaid internships, and that they don’t decide if unpaid internships exist or not. Well, we hate to break it to you, anonymous Spotter, but Concordia actually does have a say in unpaid internships. In the journalism department, students can’t get paid if they’re earning credit for their internship (see JOUR 450 above). This university policy is a hassle to deal with, and leaves students feeling trapped between two daunting choices: exert all of your energy and produce the best work possible without pay, or choose an unrelated job that pays but forever be left behind in the competitive race to the top.
We also need to stress that unpaid internships in general affect a lot of different people, in a lot of different ways. In fields like mechanical and industrial engineering, internships are paid—but 79.3 per cent of students in that field at Concordia are men, according to a poster published by the CSU about unpaid internships across various departments. The same can be said about finance, where 70.12 per cent of students are men, yet that field holds paid internship opportunities. Meanwhile, fields like art education, where 90.0 per cent of students are women, and applied human sciences, where 78.29 per cent of students are women, offer mostly unpaid internships. And it’s noteworthy to remember that women that work full-time still earn 74.2 cents for every dollar earned by a man, according to Maclean’s.
Unpaid internships also affect those who are already struggling financially. People with physical and mental disabilities are twice as likely to live below the poverty line in Canada, and nearly 15 per cent of people with disabilities live in poverty, according to the non-profit organization Canada Without Poverty. One in five racialized families live in poverty in Canada, whereas one in 20 non-racialized families live in poverty. According to the same source, racialized women earn 32 per cent less at work.
These same people, representing these facts and figures, are trying their best as students at Concordia. Not only are they studying hard, they’re also trying to find an opportunity outside of their schooling that lets them add something to their resume. At the same time, they’re juggling numerous responsibilities; some might have children, others might need to pay rent. The last thing they need is an unpaid internship. So, to all of you anonymous Spotted users: try to ditch the misplaced anger, and instead, read up about unpaid internships. Oh, and maybe invest in some sympathy—it seems like you can afford it.
Graphic by @spooky_soda