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.


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