Opinion Column


Too many companies taking advantage of desperate students

By Laila Yuile, City Hall




Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on the teachers’ strike vote was Laila with 86%.

This week’s topic:

Are unpaid internships exploitation or a good opportunity for young people entering the job market?

Back in the 'good old days' when I first entered the workforce, it was common for university students to take on an internship position with a company over summer break — or even in conjunction with their studies. Back then, the unpaid and temporary positions often did get your foot in the door, in addition to acquiring valuable experience and references. A few of my friends are still with the same corporations or organizations they interned with, proof that at one time these kind of experiences were successful.

Fast forward to 2014 and you’ll find an entirely different economy and job market. With thousands of university students facing stiff competition, the perfect conditions have been created for unpaid internships to be abused across Canada.

In B.C., the law says unpaid interns should only be observing and assisting, and for limited hours each week. If an intern is performing real work, they must be paid for it. The law does differentiate, however, between an internship and a practicum, which is done in conjunction with a learning institution in exchange for student credits.

Read Brent Stafford's column

Even a brief look back through national news coverage shows a multitude of stories about internships gone wrong. Last year it was reported that an ad was circulating for an unpaid busperson internship at the Fairmont Vancouver. While both the Fairmont Hotel and Vancouver Community College defended the unpaid internship by saying even lower service positions need experience — because we all know how hard it is to put dishes in a tub — the ads were quickly pulled after being heavily criticized on social media.

Therein lays the heart of the problem that far too many students and graduates are facing. For many employers willing to cross the line, what is advertised as an unpaid internship full of opportunity ends up being nothing more than a way to get several months of free labour without it ever having to show on the books. And frankly, how many young interns would speak up and complain in this job market?

The Canadian Intern Association has been keeping track of some of the reported abusers, along with those employers following the laws of the province they hire in, on their walls of shame and fame.

Increasingly, unpaid internships are just another way for corporations to make a quick buck by not paying an eager graduate. And in my world, that’s called exploitation.

Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com.




Who wins this week's duel on internships?

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