Crackdown on unpaid internships

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Unpaid internships have been controversial for many years, but are still ubiquitous in many industries. That may change as the Ministry of Labour cracks down on internships that don't meet the stringent legal requirements.

Two Ontario publishers have let their unpaid interns go after ministry inspections found they were violating wage regulations in the Employment Standards Act.

St Joseph Media, which publishes Toronto Life, Canadian Family, and Quill & Quire, let about 20 unpaid interns go, according to CEO Douglas Knight. The compliance order was issued only for Toronto Life, but the others were let go to ensure the entire company complied with the ESA. Toronto Life kept two of its seven interns.

“After 20 years of running a hugely successful internship program that was very public and widely known, the (Ministry of Labour) decided to shut (it) down,” Knight said, adding he was told inspectors would be looking at all magazines in the province, many of which offer unpaid entry-level positions.

Editorial interns at The Walrus were also told their positions would end this week.

Internships are only allowed to be unpaid when run through co-op programs or official work programs approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university. The only other situation where a company can hire an unpaid intern is if all six of these conditions are met:

  1. The training is similar to that given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the individual.
  3. The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he/she is being trained.
  4. The individual does not displace paid employees of the person providing the training.
  5. The individual is not accorded a right to become a future employee of the person providing the training.
  6. The individual is advised that he or she will receive no compensation for the time that he or she spends in training.

There could be as many as 300,000 unpaid interns in Ontario, including 100,000 who are not on the books and not always protected by workplace safety laws.

Tell us in the comments what you think of unpaid internships.

  • Janine on 2014-04-05 7:15:41 PM

    Absolutely believe that unpaid internships should be discontinued, i see this as a means of business taking advantage of people who are desperate to get a job, and often.......hmmm wonder how many interns get full time jobs with the companies who benefited from their free labour? We already know the companies got value.

  • Karena on 2014-04-05 9:03:55 PM

    I think that the issue of unpaid internships is not being properly monitored by HR departments. While there is certainly tremendous opportunities for an intern to gain the relevant KSAOs of the job and occupation and not to mention the potential networking opportunities it provides; I have seen first hand where interns have been abused because of the fact that they are seen as "free labour." They become gofers for the powers that be simply because they know that interns need the job experience to get ahead in their careers.
    Most internship programs are not clearly defined and thus leaves the door open for exploitation of free labour by members of an organization.
    I believe that most organizations can also afford even a small stipend that would take some financial pressure off interns, as most of these people are students and can barely afford transportation costs to and from work.
    Canadian organizations are becoming too dependent on the notion and comfort of free labour. There needs to be an equitable system established to ensure that both parties benefit and none are taken advantage of.

  • Andrew Barker on 2014-04-07 12:13:44 PM

    When educational institutions charge tuition fees for programs that will not lead to employment other than internships, it tells you something about the disconnect between education/training and the needs of business. Part of the problem is that employers have decided that families and the state are responsible for training. Employers do not want to accept the financial responsibility to train staff. This is taken to a further extreme when employers "hire", or should I say USE interns.

    In effect, both the educational institutions and the employers are in an "unholy alliance", driven by self interest. What a waste of human potential! Canada does not have so much of a skills shortage, but rather a labour mobility shortage and a lack of good values in both private/public sector and the education system. Stop treating people like they are commodities or feedstock - a "human resource".

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