Unpaid internships under the microscope at last

It seems as though the issue of unpaid internships has reached a breaking point this summer.

The watershed Black Swan ruling last month appears to have led to a flood of lawsuits by former interns alleging breach of labour laws. U.S. publishers Gawker and Condé Nast have been hit with intern lawsuits over the past few weeks. And here in Canada, Bell Mobility has come under scrutiny for its voluntary management training program — former interns for the program allege that it takes advantage of young workers instead of providing the promised training and work experience.

The good news is that all of this legal action has finally drawn some serious media and political attention to the unpaid internship situation. This week, Liberal MP Scott Brison took up the cause, calling on the Canadian government to investigate internships and legislate changes to protect young workers against exploitative and illegal unpaid work programs.

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau also expressed concern last week about the increasing number of unpaid internships. NDP MP Andrew Cash spoke on the topic in the House of Commons last month and plans to introduce a private members’ bill to address the problem.

It’s going to take a tremendous amount of pressure to undo the culture of corporate entitlement that has led to such widespread exploitation of young workers. But it’s encouraging to see the subject being raised in the House of Commons and to hear the words “unpaid internship” on the lips of politicians and party leaders.

Unpaid internships impact a massive number of Canadian workers. Toronto lawyer Andrew Langille estimates that 300,000 Canadians — mostly youth — are currently working as unpaid interns. He believes that upwards of 90% of those internships are in violation of this country’s labour laws.

Internships have been a hot topic across the internet for the last few weeks, with sites like Slate and The Wrap devoting serious column inches to the subject. ProPublica raised $22,000 last week to hire an intern to investigate unpaid internships across the U.S. this fall.

The Canadian Magazines blog recently posted an excellent summary of the situation as it relates to the publishing industry in Canada.

And for ongoing discussion of the issue, check out Youth and Work, Andrew Langille’s workplace law-related website.


Posted on July 4, 2013 at 9:05 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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