Student interns gather to protest unpaid labour

With increasing rent and tuition, students cannot afford to work for free.

On March 29, students from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Concordia and other universities gathered to protest against unpaid internships at Parc Émilie-Gamelin. The Coalition de résistance pour l’unité étudiante syndicale (CRUES) planned a three-day strike along with the protests.

Attendees weren’t only students. Alice Lefevre, who graduated from UQAM, came to show solidarity as a former student intern.

“At UQAM, there were people from social sciences, education and political sciences that were striking,” Lefevre said. 

The jobs these students are being assigned is stressful, especially in emotionally difficult fields such as social work. Lefevre did 800 hours of internship in this field.. 

She chose not to pursue the field. Lefevre now works with the student union at UQAM. 

“Maybe if I’d had a pay and a salary… I felt during my studies that if I was being treated fairly as any other male workers, maybe I would be a social worker today,” Lefevre said.

There were feminist and pro-transgender chants as well. One of the chants referenced the comité des sages, a committee started by the CAQ to discuss gender issues which has been protested by advocates, showing the interconnected nature of these issues.

Gender plays a role in inequalities of internships. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, women are more likely to be unpaid interns than men. 

“The audacity of these major corporations or government institutions to tell them: ‘Give us your labour, give us your time, your passion, for free.’ I find it very disrespectful,” said Angelica Antonakopoulos, academic coordinator for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations (ASFA).

Antonakopoulos was lucky enough to get a paid internship, but wanted to show solidarity with her fellow students. With rent and tuition rising, and the ending of lease transfers, students can’t afford to do unpaid labour.

“You can’t tell people to work for free anymore,” Antonakopoulos said.

She was one of two speakers who got the crowd energized. They spoke to the frustration of the students, saying that they’re sick of being exploited and used by the government. 

As such, students are asked to pay even more to work for free, according to Lefevre.

The demonstrators marched to the ministry of education building on Fullum Street, where they stood outside chanting and singing.

Alicia Aubin is in her third year of a degree to teach English as a second language at UQAM. She pointed out that teachers and nurses are commonly unpaid interns. This ties into the gendered aspect, as women are more likely to be in these fields

“Sometimes it lasts up to eight to ten weeks of us doing 100 per cent of the teacher’s workload,” Aubin said. “That’s really draining.”


It’s time to reject unpaid internships once and for all

Unpaid internships exacerbate the rampant inequalities in our labour market

National Football League (NFL) reporter Jane Slater sparked the ire of young journalists all over the Twittersphere earlier this month when she promoted an unpaid internship position. After receiving an avalanche of responses on how unpaid internships are unethical, unsustainable, and exploitative, she responded that this was simply the norm and that, “There is a reason not everyone makes it in this business.” She continued, “I don’t have time for those of you who don’t understand grind.”

While Slater’s unwavering commitment to the practice of unpaid internships is baffling, she wasn’t exactly incorrect that they are omnipresent in media and journalism fields.

Although no career field could ever be a true meritocracy, unpaid internships are pushing us further and further from that ideal. This is because to even be able to work unpaid, you must start out with a base level of economic security and privilege.

A student who needs to pay their own way through university or support dependents would simply not be able to allocate their time and labour to a company not willing to pay them. This leads to a culture where the only people applying for these entry-level internships are those who already have a financial leg up.

Additionally, working for free can put interns in precarious situations. Despite the fact that, as of 2019, all interns in federally regulated industries, including unpaid student positions, received standard worker protections, there are still many interns across Canada left without proper protections. This ruling did not account for federal civil service jobs or positions under provincial jurisdiction. Thus, the burden of adequately caring for their unpaid interns is placed on the employer, who often has little incentive to provide anything above the bare minimum needed to not get sued.

Not to mention, the mere concept of unpaid internships perpetuates the notion that one’s labour can be removed from their pay. The more a young person gets used to not being paid for their work, the less they’ll value their labour as they move into positions later down the line, which may lead to them not properly advocating for themselves.

Full disclosure, I have worked an unpaid internship. I am privileged enough that working for pay part-time over a summer and interning the rest was enough to sustain me. Looking back, I hate myself for offering my labour to such an unethical system, but at the same time, it’s what I was told was common, if not necessary, to have a career in media.

Yet, I now believe that no internship, no matter the prestige, would be worth selling out my labour for free. I can no longer in good conscience prop up any company not willing to pay their workers a living wage, because when privileged people feed into these systems, they’ll continue functioning regardless of backlash. There are so many resources such as Concordia’s Housing and Job Resource Centre (HOJO) or Career and Planning Services (CAPS), that make it easier to find paid opportunities and avoid falling victim to the unpaid internship scam.

If we all as students reject the concept of unpaid internships wholeheartedly, the industry will eventually be forced to follow suit.


 Graphic by Alex Hutchins

Concordia Student Union Opinions

Supporting the CSU’s call to end student exploitation

School can only teach you so much. This is what makes internships so valuable. They are an opportunity to get real-world, first-hand experience in your field before entering the job market. But as some posters displayed around campus assert: “Exposure” doesn’t pay the bills.

These posters are part of the 2017-2018 Concordia Student Union (CSU) campaign against unpaid internships. According to their website, unpaid internships became popular after the 2008 economic crash. “Unpaid internships, specifically, download the pressure of getting a good education onto the individual while taking that pressure off of the government and the employer,” the CSU’s campaign pamphlet reads.

While some students may have the financial capability to take on this pressure, many students simply can’t afford to dedicate time to a job that doesn’t pay. According to a 2013 Statistics Canada survey, 52 per cent of students between the ages of 20 and 24 relied on employment to fund their education. Other students may need an income to pay for rent, to buy food or to support their children. For many students, earning money is a necessity while in school, and juggling a full course load, a part-time job and an internship simply isn’t possible.

It might come as surprising to some of you, but unpaid internships are actually illegal in Quebec. However, there are three exceptions listed in Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards. Internships that are either part of a program provided by an approved educational institution, completed at a non-profit organization with community purposes or part of a vocational training program are not required to be paid in Quebec.

That first exception is of particular significance to Concordia students. While internships for credit can be an exciting way to learn outside of the conventional classroom setting, there is debate over whether the value of that experience merits students giving away their labour for free.

Among the CSU’s calls to action for the provincial government is the need to create standardized criteria for internships. We at The Concordian support this initiative. In a perfect world, all internships would be paid. But if students are going to be working for free, the government needs to ensure that the line has clearly been drawn between what constitutes a valuable learning experience and what is simply student exploitation.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 


Why journalists need to be paid

Journalism—as many of us at The Concordian know—is a competitive field with very few jobs available. Just recently, the Montreal Gazette announced it would be laying off more workers in the near future, according to the Financial Post. So with fewer and fewer jobs available, aspiring journalists will do anything to get ahead and that includes free labour.

It’s a conversation some of our editors here at The Concordian have had with the journalism department. Some professors believe unpaid internships are the way to go to gain experience, while others are adamant that we should all be paid for our work.

On Jan. 27, ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell sparked a lengthy conversation on Twitter after suggesting the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper ask students at Northwestern University to cover college basketball games for free. After numerous tweets telling him he was wrong for suggesting a publication should have students work for free, Rovell replied saying some of the best journalists got their start while doing so.

While this may be true, there is certainly a disconnect between the journalism of today and the journalism of the past. For starters, you just has to attend any journalism seminar in the country to learn that newsrooms are shrinking.

With the pressures of paying rent, food and tuition, finding time for an unpaid internship is close to impossible. If the only way to become successful in the industry is to become an unpaid intern, then only the most privileged people would be able to get ahead.

In Montreal, one of the places that offers unpaid internships is Bell Media. While these internships offer valuable experience that could make good journalists great, for some people, they simply aren’t an option.

Another dilemma young journalists face is the choice between exposure and money when it comes to freelancing. In an article by the International Business Times, Huffington Post U.K. editor-in-chief Steven Hull admitted to not paying writers for work.

“If I was paying someone to write something because I want it to get advertising, that’s not a real authentic way of presenting copy,” Hull said. “When somebody writes something for us, we know it’s real, we know they want to write it. It’s not been forced or paid for. I think that’s something to be proud of.”

Attitudes like the Huffington Post’s are tricking young journalists into writing for free. Asking to be paid is not disrespectful, it’s what you should be doing. If you are a journalist and your article is next to an ad, then in some way, shape or form you are making money for that publication and should be paid for it. Even if the publication you write for doesn’t have a huge budget, you should at least get a little something for your hard work.

Now you must be reading this and thinking “does The Concordian pay their writers?” The answer is no. Call us hypocrites, call us horrible names and compare us to Huffington Post, because we 100 per cent know we’re in the wrong.

As an editorial team, we unfortunately do not have the power to grant monetary bonuses to our contributors—our board of directors is in control of the finances. We’d like to end this editorial by asking our board to start providing financial stipends to our writers who demonstrate hardwork and consistency.

It’s time The Concordian emerges from this deep slumber and start dishing out some of that money buried deep in our swollen coffers.

As young journalists we shouldn’t have to settle for less just because our older contemporaries did. It’s 2017 and media corporations (including your university newspaper), needs to get with the times.


The rare ‘win-win’ of unpaid internships

How unpaid internships can be good for companies, but also beneficial to you

The rise of capitalism through the Industrial Revolution has created massive diversity in the job market. The majority of the population no longer lived on farms, but moved into the city where the jobs were stationed. Unskilled labor became coveted and exploited, while skilled labor was revered and rewarded (for the most part).

Many people argue that we are past that point in capitalist history. However, many challenges still face the job market today. Not only is there a bigger gap between the rich and poor in North American society than in past decades, but we’ve seen the rise of a new phenomenon that needs to be addressed: unpaid internships.

As is the case with many social and economic issues, there is a growing divide in opinion: the company itself, and whoever is in charge of making budget decisions with regards to interns and the youth; and a university student like myself, who is on the cusp of acquiring a full-time job in my preferred field.

I should expectedly be biased towards the common youth position of fighting back against the “big bad corporations” because they are cheating us out of potential income, treating us as undignified human beings, and because we have intrinsic rights to paid positions if we are contributing to the success of any corporation. The flip side of this argument is that the youth should be motivated to do whatever it takes to better themselves in their respective field, go through the difficult treatment of employers that normally occurs as a university student and early in one’s career. Trust, dignity, respect and character should not be entitled to anyone from the very start, but earned at a difficult cost.

I firmly believe that the truth about how this issue should be handled lies somewhere in the middle. The values that drive the corporate view are assets to any youngster while exploitation is not something that the youth should have to face. I also have personal experience regarding this issue, having interned without pay for TSN Radio for a year here in Montreal on a part-time basis. I must honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed my experience interning, even though it was only one afternoon per week. I learned many skills, made some incredible contacts and—more than anything—enjoyed the work I was doing. The staff was always understanding of the situation and never overworked me in any way, nor did they treat me like less of a human being. Also, I understood that radio isn’t exactly the most profitable industry, which factors into how I perceived my internship. I understand however, that many people share different experiences from their unpaid internships.

For example, a recent article in The Guardian illustrates how companies can take their unpaid internship opportunities to an unethical extreme. The article highlights that a British company not only required the individual to pay for the opportunity, but asked for 300 pounds per reference.

If the experience is very unique and the demand is high, I believe that unpaid internships are acceptable. However, it is clear from an ethical standpoint that requiring money for an internship is unethical. There has to be an appreciation from both sides of the experience. On one hand, the employee should be grateful and have the motivation to make the most of their opportunity as an intern. From the corporation’s perspective, they should have the willingness to train and provide the unique experience simply because the intern is providing a service at no cost. If either of these attitudes is not followed, it is only then that the unpaid internship becomes a problematic interest for either party.

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