TRU students stand in solidarity against Quebec’s unpaid internships

Students from across campus walked out in solidarity with Quebec students boycotting their unpaid labour

Waving colourful signs bearing different slogans, TRU students joined together to stand in solidarity and protest the unpaid practicum system which allows students to work for experience without any pay. (Aidan Grether/The Omega)

Students from across campus gathered outside A&E on Nov. 21 to stand in solidarity with their Quebec counterparts over unpaid internships and to protest the province’s regulations on the matter itself.

The participating students were, in spirit, gathered alongside 54,000 students in Quebec who walked out of classes and boycotted their internships to press the view that even if placements might help their future careers, their labour should not be free. A throng of students demonstrated in Montreal on Wednesday to make their opinions heard.

Students chanted that they wanted change and used posters stating there should be “work for pay, not pay for work.” Multiple speakers joined together to talk about the matter at hand.

“Unpaid internships are the norm with people 50 hours or more and are for nothing,” some of the students shouted at the protest.

“We get experience, we acknowledge that yet we’re struggling and are here to stop the struggle,” others yelled.

Some of the other themes addressed alongside unpaid internships were the stigma that came with disabled people not being accepted for paid practicums, the overworking of healthcare practicum students in particular and the problem of women being rejected for paid internships compared to men.

“It is mostly women-dominated and gender-marginalized fields, so we are here to protest for the sheer injustice of not getting paid for our work,” said Jacqueline Ohayon, from McGill University’s Social Work Student Association.

Now in British Columbia, unpaid internships are illegal unless the internship falls under one of the two narrow exceptions listed in B.C.’s  Employment Standards Act. Exceptions are internships that provide “hands-on” training as part of a formal educational program (called a “practicum” in the Act); or internships that provide training for certain professions (e.g. architecture, law, engineering or real estate).

“The issue is a problem across Canada,” said William Webb, executive director of the Canadian Intern Association. “Unpaid internships effectively favour students from better-off families who can afford to work for no wages. You’re paying the educational institution for the privilege to work for free.”

However, there are many who do support unpaid internships, such as Helena Rozman, who is an employment associate for Dentons.

“The aim of unpaid internships is to give individuals exposure to an industry in which they may wish to work, without the responsibility of filling an official position,” Rozman said. “When competition for employment is strong, a period of unpaid internship may give an individual the edge when it comes to them later applying for a paid role.”