University Complicity in the Unpaid Racket

In Universities, Unpaid Internships on September 26, 2011 at 11:17 am

Today on Doorey’s Law Blog is a guest post by lawyer Andrew Langille on the topic: Generation Free: Are universities perpetuating inequality by promoting unpaid, precarious work? 

I commend the faculty and researchers of York for being willing to call out their institution on this issue. By posting unpaid internships, Internsheep believes that universities legitimize these roles as a necessary step for launching a career, while ignoring the barriers this system poses. We are in the midst of a paradigm shift in labour and universities have the potential to lead positive change in this area.

Internsheep believes that higher education institutions have a duty to protect their students and graduates from exploitative, illegal, and inaccessible opportunities. Unpaid positions that fall outside the scope of for-credit-co-ops should not be posted on university job boards. Further, universities are encouraged to adopt a policy of best practices for internships. Such codes have been put forward in theUKand could easily be adapted for the Canadian context.

Below is the last email I sent to Yorkoutlining more specific concerns with their listings and encouraging them to adopt a policy that actually addresses the rise in unpaid, exploitative positions. The email was sent September 14th and to date no acknowledgement or response has been received.

Hi [York],
I appreciate your response.


While I agree that York students and graduates need to build career-related skills, the proliferation of unpaid work is worrying. A York scholar at Osgoode has recently conducted research on unpaid internships in Canada and has called the legality of many of these arrangements into question. This work hit the media earlier this summer.

Specifically, York listed positions from for-profit companies like RBC Financial and Sony Music. Justifying the unpaid nature of these positions in a legal context would be difficult, as direct financial benefit will be afforded the employer by these interns. Under the ESA, unpaid internships must provide training similar to that at a vocational school and the benefit must be to the intern, not the employer.


In addition to the legal dimension, these unpaid positions will inevitably only be accessible to those that can afford to work for free, creating a two-tiered entry-level system where the highly competitive positions are only for those of high socio-economic means.


Is York willing to assess these issues further? A voluntary code of best practice has been developed in the UK for internships, which could easily be adapted for the Canadian context. Adopting a policy that more specifically addresses the concerns posed by unpaid internships and misapplied volunteerships would ensure that quality, meaningful, and accessible opportunities are presented to York students and grads.


I’d very much be interested in York’s response to these concerns. Let me know if you require any additional information. Thanks again,


  1. […] pressed York on their practices, and after a professor and researcher drew attention to the issue, York responded, saying they would look into the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: