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Unpaid internships should be banned

Sofia Hashi | Fulcrum Staff

Photo illustration by Kyle Hansford 

January, which means that amidst getting back to the daily school grind, dressing for subzero weather, and attempting to schedule a skate on the canal, we must start job searching. Sadly, the last part wasn’t a typo. While it may seem way too early to even think about your resumé or start reading those semi-helpful “How to ace an interview” and “Make your CV stand out” articles, it’s true: January is the time to begin thinking about your summer plans.

Some students may choose to ditch the job route in favour of a different one, and I’m not talking about backpacking through South America. Internships are usually the preferred option for recent university grads hoping to break into the career path of their choice. And why wouldn’t they be? Internships offer students a chance to test out new skills, network, and learn more about their line of work. Unfortunately, most of these opportunities come at the expense of a paycheque—yours.

Most internships nowadays are unpaid. If you’re lucky, you’ll be offered a stipend that barely covers your living expenses. According to CTV News, most entry-level jobs are being replaced by unpaid internships, which are difficult for students with loans to commit to. This begs the question, “Why do unpaid internships even exist?”

This question has popped up often over the last couple of years, especially in the U.K., where most unpaid internships have been deemed illegal. Here in Canada, such work hasn’t been prohibited, but hopefully that will all change. Unpaid internships shouldn’t exist, period. The work interns do is work, and should be considered so. Often they’re doing more than their job description describes—running errands for their boss, memorizing the office’s Starbucks orders, cleaning up the kitchen when higher-ups don’t seem capable of putting their cups in the dishwasher. The main achievement of unpaid internships is exploiting young adults who are eager to jumpstart their careers. We sacrifice a paying summer job, which might have helped us diminish our mountain of student debt. We work long, gruelling hours, and for what? Invaluable experience? A chance?

Not to mention, unpaid work is highly exclusive—and I’m not just talking about the selection process. Some of us simply can’t afford to take two to four months out of our lives to work without pay. Consequently, the majority of people who apply to unpaid internships usually come from a certain demographic, hence the exclusivity.

Unpaid internships should be made illegal here in Canada. It’s work and there’s no other way of saying it. Students should be offered minimum wage and be treated as contract employees. Also, by outlawing unpaid internships, students would have more rights as they would be workers, not volunteers. It would also help replace jobs lost to internships and give the younger workforce the ability to stand on their own feet and not rely on mom or dad. Ultimately, unpaid internships are a waste of our time, and the sooner everyone realizes that, the better.