Unpaid Pan Am Games writing jobs raise ire


The altered version of the Pan Am Games' ad for unpaid feature writers.

The altered version of the Pan Am Games’ ad for unpaid feature writers.

Last Thursday, Toronto freelance writer and investigative journalist Andrew Livingstone ran across a job ad posted by the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games.

The ad was seeking five writers to produce feature content for websites, publications, newsletters and brochures. Duties included interviewing sources, fact checking and writing to deadline, as well as attending and covering events and activities. The educational requirements included a degree in journalism, communications or public relations.

The positions were unpaid.

Livingstone made his outrage known in a series of tweets that garnered more than 40,000 impressions over the course of the day. The tweets, and many of the responses he got to them, are collected here in a Storify. Thursday was the application deadline and by the end of the day the job posting had come down.

Livingstone says what bothers him most about the Pan Am Games asking writers to work for free is that the Games are a $1.5B operation funded with government money.

“It really irked me because of the high-paid staff members at the organization, a number who are on the province’s Sunshine List for making over $100,000 annually,” Livingstone told Story Board via email this week.

“The amount of money going into the project is incredible, and for them to try and get people to write for them without pay is just awful.”

Livingstone also pointed out that the listing gave no indication of what benefits a writer would receive from accepting such a position.

“Exposure alone isn’t a form of payment – if exposure paid my rent, car payments and cell phone bill, sign me up. However, it doesn’t and asking people to work for free, after all the media attention and government effort to stop companies that could afford to pay people from offering unpaid internships, it was just a sad thing to see,” he said.

One of the people who responded to Livingstone’s tweets was Toronto based labour lawyer Andrew Langille. Langille responded quickly when he saw the ad, tweeting that it was an “illegal wage theft scam.”

Langille says he’s been monitoring the Pan Am Games’ hiring and labour practices for several months.

“Up until now they’ve been pretty careful with the unpaid labour aspect in that they’ve kept it strictly confined to students. But this is a new development,” he told Story Board via phone last week.

Langille says that the duties listed in the ad were consistent with a job that someone would typically get paid for under Ontario labour laws.

“What they’re attempting to do is an end run around Ontario’s Employment Standards Act,” he said.

“This looks like a job which should be paid. The Employment Standards Act has a prohibition under Section 5 on contracting out of the minimum employment standards. So what this was, in effect, was the Pan Am Games committee trying to get around the minimum wage laws, in my opinion,” he said.

Langille says the ad is especially egregious in light of the current state of journalism and the media sector in Toronto.

“I think they’re exploiting the plight of many young, unemployed journalists. I find it all quite troubling. Especially given the fact that this is the Ontario government and they have the ability to pay,” he said.

During the course of the day on Thursday, the job listing was altered. The job requirements were changed to make them appear flexible, and the educational requirements were removed. But Langille says that the changes still don’t make the listing a legitimate volunteer position.

“At the end of the day, it’s Pan Am Games letting somebody ‘suffer to labour’. That’s a labour law term. The fact that they can set their own hours or pick what they cover makes no difference in the eyes of the law. They’re still doing work. The core act has not changed,” he said

Langille says that the Games’ heavy reliance on volunteer labour is disappointing.

“I think everybody understood that there’d be some level of volunteerism involved, but given the sky-high youth unemployment rate in Ontario this would have been a good opportunity for the government to provide summer employment to young people. But what it looks like is that it’s going to be a grab for free labour,” he said.

Coming, as it did, on the heels of controversial remarks about unpaid work by the Governor of the Bank of Canada, Langille says the powerful negative reaction to the ad was unsurprising.

“Certainly in the wake of Governor Poloz’s comments earlier this week, I think what the Pan Am Games is doing has struck a nerve. Because it seems that they are taking Governor Poloz up on his advice. I guess there’s some irony in that. But it’s troubling because employment standards matter. We have laws for a reason. And the law isn’t being respected,” he said.

Langille says that Poloz’s comments are dangerous for the same reason that the Pan Am Games ad is dangerous.

“We have a minimum floor of rights in this country when it comes to what people need to be paid. And we have some very deep structural labour market problems. And both of these examples go to the fact that we have governments in place that aren’t treating these problems seriously,” he said.

“Unpaid internships have become a problem because people can’t find work and there’s a jobs crisis. There is an underemployment crisis and there is an unemployment crisis for young people. So you have all these underlying issues that politicians pay lip service to, but when it comes time to actually put in place human resources strategies and labour market policies they just toss out all kinds of platitudes and go to some really exploitative practices,” he said.

Langille says he contacted a senior director in the department where the volunteer writers would be used, but received no satisfactory response to his complaint about the ad.

“They’re of the position that [they’re] hiring thousands upon thousands of volunteers and they don’t feel that the employment standards laws apply to them,” he said.

Story Board contacted the communications spokesperson for the Pan Am Games for comment. We received an email statement this morning. The statement read:

“Without question, volunteers are the heart of the Games.  We’re recruiting 23,000 people to help the games come to life – they’re going to work in various capacities and have all sorts of different skill sets and professional backgrounds.  This is similar to other multi-sport games in the past, such as the Vancouver Olympics.

“In this case, TO2015 wanted to offer Games enthusiasts who have a passion for writing and for sporting events a part-time volunteer opportunity, with no set hours, to help promote our athletes and the city.  After seeing some of the feedback online, TO2015 adjusted the posting to clarify this intention.

“It is important to note that TO2015 has paid writers on staff.”



Posted on November 13, 2014 at 9:07 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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