Closing the Sheep – Check out the Intern Association!

In Internsheep News on May 9, 2013 at 2:42 pm

So it`s been awhile! I set up internsheep after I finished my MA in 2011 and was frustrated at the lack of entry-level opportunity at NGOs. What few positions were available were unpaid internships. While the UK had mobilised and had several running and active groups and organisations looking at this issue, it didn`t seem to be gaining much ground in Canada.

I connected with some brilliant individuals working in the space, like Andrew Langille. I had plans to mount larger campaigns (like What the Flock – a demonstration day on the hill – with a name like that, how could it fail?). But although I did receive some traction and I did get a positive response from many others experiencing the same issues, I let the project drop after a few months.

This was for many reasons, but chief among them was securing permanent, full-time work while at the same time still working on freelance projects in my spare time. I have since moved to the UK, where I`m hitting the freelance pavement once again and toying with the idea of launching a social enterprise focused on youth unemployment… But that`s a whole other story that is likely ages away, unless anyone here knows of any angel investors.

All that to say, I`ve been glad to hear from the occasional visitor to this blog and to see a handful of traffic still comes this way. I think it worth keeping this up as a resource and record, but anyone stumbling across this will want to head on over to the Canadian Intern Association, who are doing a brilliant job of ramping up pressure on businesses who think they can get away with not paying their workers. Please get in touch if there`s anything I can help with!


York U Passes the Buck

In Universities, Unpaid Internships on December 8, 2011 at 6:07 pm

Frustrated Sheep.

This fall, internsheep posted about the amount of unpaid positions at York University and the University of Toronto, questioning whether universities, in presenting these dubious opportunities to their students, were complicit in the systemic barriers young people face today as they attempt to enter the modern workforce. I pressed York on their practices, and after a professor and researcher drew attention to the issue, York responded, saying they would look into the matter.

Well, dear flock, York has indeed “looked into it”. I am incredibly disappointed to have to say that after they looked into it, they promptly passed the buck to no fewer than three scapegoats. Here is their bottom line:

Dear Carley:

Thank you for your email.

The Career Centre has inquired about our posting practices and we have confirmed that they align with current practice at other post-secondary institutes. We have also brought this matter to the attion of the Canadian Association of Career Educations and Employers (CACEE) for their consideration, as they provide guidelines for recruitment on Canadian university and college campuses.

As you note in your email, if there is an issue with the Employment Standards Act compliance with a particular position, the issue is between the applicant and that employer and as a result we would direct any such inquiries to the Employment Standards Branch of the Ministry of Labour.

Kind Regards,

[YorkU Career Centre]

So there you have it: everyone else is doing it, it’s up to some other oversight body, and we bear no responsibility for the employer-employee relationships we help create.

Disappointing indeed. Note that nowhere does the inquiry that the university took on take the shape of actually asking their students about the problem. Helping address the lack of information on the proliferation of unpaid work with their career centre resources. Polling students about their thoughts on unpaid labour and whether they are under pressure to take unpaid work to break into a career or are simply locked out of certain opportunities all together. Nope. It’s ok, because everyone else is doing it.

This is why it is a systemic problem. How do you address a systemic problem? You fight back. Students need to realize – before they graduate and realize their dim prospects after they have all scattered away from the formal institution of the university – that they have the power to change this. If you’re interested in mounting some direct action on these issues at your school, email internsheep.canada@gmail.com. If even half the energy that goes into asking for tuition fee decreases went into this issue, we could have a movement up before the end of the year.

Are Unpaid Internships Illegal in Canada?

In Legal, Unpaid Internships on November 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Answering the question of whether unpaid internships are illegal in Canada poses several problems.

First, labour law is generally a provincial matter and employment standards legislation varies from province to province. Second, there are no definitions of terms like “intern” in any employment acts and there seems to be a lot of misinterpretation or misunderstandings of current legislation.

Those interested in a good collection of research to date on the situation in Ontario, should check out lawyer Andrew Langille’s post on the topic.

In Ontario, a 6-point test borrowed from the American Department of Labour applies to determine whether an individual is an employee (and therefore subject to all the rights and protections of the Employment Standards Act), or not.  These criteria must all be met to classify an individual as a person receiving training. They must firstly actually be receiving training similar to that which they would receive from a vocational school, they must receive the primary benefit from the arrangement while the employer derives no direct benefit, the individual is not replacing paid employees, and it is clear that there is no right to employment or remuneration in order to not be considered an employee.

Exclusions are also provided for those receiving credit from approved educational institutions, as in co-ops or work placements. Quebec, Manitoba, and British Columbia also have language governing voluntary or unpaid labour, but research is still needed to truly understand how the legislation is being applied and what gaps exist across the country.

This past summer, the Ontario Ministry of Labour released a fact sheet on unpaid internships in an apparent attempt to clear up the matter. However, the practice appears to continue unabated and is perhaps growing as a result of the economic downturn, shifting demographics, and an economy increasingly based on precarious work arrangements.

Unfortunately, internsheep suspects that many young Canadians are falling through the cracks and are either shut out of opportunities due to an inability to work for free, or are being taken advantage of in exploitative work relationships.

Individuals concerned about their characterization as an intern can contact their provincial or territorial Employment Standards Office. The numbers are listed below. Be sure to also check out the tips over at Youth and Work – document as much of your work experience as you can, keep good records, and take action early.

Alberta: 1-877-427-3731

British Columbia: 1-800-663-3316

Manitoba: 1-800-821-4307

New Brunswick: 1-888-452-2687

Newfoundland and Labrador: 1-877-563-1063

Northwest Territories: 1-888-700-5707 (Canada wide)

Nova Scotia: 1-888-315-0110

Nunavut: 1-877-806-8402

Ontario: 1-800-531-5551

Prince Edward Island: 1-800-333-4362

Quebec: Labour Standards Office – 1 800 265-1414

Saskatchewan: 1-800-667-1783

Yukon: 1-800-661-0408 local 5944

Federally Regulated Industries: 1-800-641-4049