Students’ voices can create change in the fight for fair wages

by Priya Duguay

Toronto International Film Festival is creating quite the buzz again this year as a flurry of fans, film aficionados, and film fraternity (aka. Hollywood’s elite) arrive for the highly respected film festival. As a media student at Ryerson University’s Radio and Television Media Production Program (RTA) I’m constantly, like many of my peers, seeking employment and experience in the industry. TIFF offers a wealth of opportunities for students and aspiring newbies as it takes over downtown Toronto with screenings, meetings, deals, and parties. As the excitement and hype ignite the city many of us dream of attending TIFF as industry professionals.

So when I received an email from my program department a few weeks ago about an opportunity to work with the entertainment show etalk during TIFF, my interest was immediately piqued. As I read the email, however, I realized that this was yet another unpaid gig. The email asked for volunteers to help promote etalk’s coverage of the festival and distribute swag bags. For many students, an opportunity like this one seems glamorous and filled with exciting prospects. But the question is, why is it not a paid position?

To break it down, etalk is broadcast on CTV, which is owned and operated by Bell Media. According to their website, Bell has a multi-platform brand that includes television, online, specialty and digital media. Since Bell Media is such a major player in Canadian media, one would imagine that paying people fair wages would be common sense?

I decided to do a little investigating.

I contacted Student Affairs Coordinator and President of the RTA Alumni Association, Donna Morrison to ask why Ryerson RTA acts as the liaison between students and this type of unpaid work. She said that these types of opportunities “have long been something that students have the ability to volunteer for” and that students are “not obliged to apply for any of these opportunities.” Ms. Morrison went on to say that, “many students seek these types of positions quite willingly and even ask [her] directly for them.”

Indeed, Ryerson’s RTA department attaches a disclaimer to their job postings saying that they do not represent or endorse any of their postings and that they “provide job/internship postings as a service to inform students…of potential opportunities.”

But it’s interesting how all these words – opportunity, volunteer, intern – are used interchangeably. Usually we associate volunteering with charity work but jobs disguised as volunteer opportunities are rampant within media these days. And this etalk opportunity certainly seemed to be one of them.

I checked with Andrew Langille, a Toronto labour lawyer and advocate for fair wages, and he confirmed that the etalk posting was “illegal under both the Employment Standards Act, 2000 and the Canada Labour Code. It’s employee misclassification as the people are doing work.”

So where does the problem lie?

I believe the problem lies on two fronts: first of all with the university and secondly with the students. RTA is trying to deliver information that students want, but in doing so they facilitate the ongoing problem of workers being unpaid. RTA should commit to only promoting opportunities from companies that follow labour laws.

On the other hand, we as students have a responsibility to learn about our employment rights and understand the monetary value of our work. Some of us believe we are making connections and gaining experience by taking these types of positions. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be paid for our work.

In my attempts to do due diligence, I repeatedly contacted Bell Media — both the HR department and the contact in the email sent from etalk — asking them why the position was unpaid. Just before this post was published, the contact from etalk emailed me back. Finally!

The very short email stated that there had been a “miscommunication”, and that the etalk jobs at TIFF will pay $25 for each two-hour shift. There’s no way to know whether it was my emails that caused Bell Media’s change of heart on this job posting, but it’s heartening to think that perhaps simply speaking up about this issue may have had some effect.

If we as students continue to speak up and collectively demand change, perhaps these unpaid “opportunities” will become a thing of the past.


Priya Duguay is a CWA Canada Associate Member, a media student, freelance writer, and multi-platform producer who loves to cook and create.

Posted on September 11, 2015 at 9:00 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

2 Responses

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  1. Written by Lesley Evans Ogden
    on September 12, 2015 at 12:34 pm
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    Well done Priya!

  2. Written by Frank
    on September 16, 2015 at 12:11 pm
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    Good article about the serious problem of Youth Underemployment in Canada. Shame these corporations into paying young people instead of exploiting them!

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