By Josh Dehaas - Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - 30 Comments
Unpaid interns are illegal and yet ubiquitous
When Michael graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Toronto last spring to a tough job market, he was thrilled to be offered the position of marketing assistant for a festival. The posting said “compensation to be determined,” which he thought meant minimum wage or more. At the interview, he learned it was an unpaid internship with a $50-per-week stipend. He took it anyway, hoping it would give him “a foot in the door.” He’d live with his parents and get a part-time retail gig to pay the bills. But there was no time for a retail gig. Every evening was eaten up on the phone for work or driving around (in his own car, paying his own gas) putting up posters for the festival.
Laura was similarly disillusioned with her experience. She got no orientation and no training on her first day of work at a big-city daily newspaper. Instead, she was handed a press pass and told to laminate it on her way to the first of that day’s press conferences. She too paid for her own gas, her own parking, her own cellphone bill. The University of Alberta graduate was treated as a member of the full-time reporting staff—except she got paid nothing. At the end of the internship, instead of offering her a paid position, they brought in another intern. They do that every month. “Why hire me when they could just get another unpaid intern?” she says.
It turns out her internship was illegal, considering she was working at a for-profit business, wasn’t in school, and was doing work normally done by a paid employee. But Laura hesitated to complain, for fear of being blacklisted. (Like Michael, she still doesn’t want her real name used for this article.)