Ministry of Labour shuts down unpaid magazine internships

Toronto Life and the Walrus will be ending their unpaid internship programs this week. (Leslie Walker / The Ryersonian)

Toronto Life and the Walrus will be ending their unpaid internship programs this week. (Leslie Walker / The Ryersonian)

Journalists aspiring to work in the magazine industry are in for a halt on unpaid internships.

Magazines across Ontario may soon be forced to shut down their unpaid internships indefinitely due to an Ontario Ministry of Labour “blitz” that is investigating internship employment standards.

“The Ministry of Labour will be launching an enforcement blitz this spring focused specifically on internships across a variety of sectors,” a statement from the labour ministry said.

The unpaid internships at Toronto Life and the Walrus will finish on Friday. The ministry inspection looked into whether the internships fell under provisions of the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

According to Canadian Magazines blogToronto Life cannot offer its four-month unpaid internships unless the positions fulfil a school credit requirement.

The rest of the province’s magazines with unpaid internships will be investigated as of April 1, the president of St. Joseph Media, the company that owns both publications, told the Globe and Mail.

Tim Falconer, an instructor on the Ryerson Review of Journalism, said that this is a good thing for journalism graduates.

“What’s happened is that magazines in financial trouble are saying that they can get an intern to do the work for free,” Falconer said. “For some magazines, they only have internships for free labour.”

He said that most magazines use interns as fact checkers and that now magazines may have to hire them as full-time staff.

“The worst scenario would be that magazines won’t be able to afford to hire anyone so the magazines will stop fact checking altogether,” he said.

Most magazines are published by wealthy corporations that can afford to pay for interns, Falconer said.

“I don’t think that magazines will go under because of it,” Falconer said. “If they do, they weren’t worth it anyways.”

The publisher of The Walrus told J-Source that it plans to appeal the decision with the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

An unpaid intern from one of the affected magazines, who didn’t want to be identified, found out she was going to be fired on March 20. Since then, her manager has been helping her go over her resumé and cover letter. She has also been given contacts to help pursue her career.

“I’m not going to bash anyone, I can’t blame (them),” she said. “It sucks that this happened, there was no alternative.”

The Ryersonian reported on unpaid internships earlier this month, when New Democrat member of provincial parliament Jonah Schein spoke about a proposed bill that would protect unpaid interns under the ESA.

“What’s so positive about it for me is it reminds people that, in this province, there are basic employment standards that must be met, and that an internship is not something that your boss can simply invent,” Schein said in the article. “There are actually rules and laws about it.”

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