Unpaid internships : A bad practice which is gaining ground

Is Canada becoming a champion of unpaid internships? Hundreds of thousands of people currently work for free in companies across the country. The figure originates in the consequences of the 2008 crisis.

Organizations estimate that nearly 300,000 people are currently working without pay within large Canadian companies. The number of these volunteer interns has skyrocketed since the economic crisis of 2008. However, young Canadians and their parents are increasingly questioning this trend, which to them resembles 19th century practices, according to Sean Geobey, author of the report The Young and the Jobless and associate researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Last year, a hotel in British Columbia sparked outrage from the public when it published an ad indicating that it was seeking people willing to clear the establishment’s tables for free. This unpaid job offer was quickly removed after the outcry that it generated on the internet.

Inadequate regulation

Unpaid internships generate socioeconomic differences. Although young people from well-off families can take on an unpaid job, others cannot afford it. These volunteer internships then end up weighing heavily on the unemployment rate of young Canadians, as the study The Young and the Jobless recalls, taking the example of Ontario. Consequently, these poor practices prevent the country’s young people from fully participating in the national economy. Although American authorities have begun to tackle the problem, Canadians do not yet have appropriate regulations that apply throughout the territory. A Canadian member of Parliament filed a bill  to this effect to counteract these disguised jobs. The Ministry of Labour responds however that there are indeed laws in the Labour Code to protect interns. If a complaint is filed for compensation, vacations or unpaid overtime, an investigator from the ministry may be appointed to conduct an investigation for verification with the employer. However, these regulations are still ineffective: since a young professional starting their career is not going to denounce their potential or current employer, if it is at fault, for fear of then being blacklisted.

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