Provincial blitz puts unpaid internships in jeopardy

Toronto Life, the Walrus and Canadian Geographic have all shut down their unpaid internships. (Leslie Walker / Ryersonian Staff)

Toronto Life, the Walrus and Canadian Geographic have all shut down their unpaid internships. (Leslie Walker / Ryersonian Staff)

Unpaid magazine internships in Ontario have been shut down as a result of a ministry crackdown, which will continue throughout the month.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour inspected Toronto Life and The Walrus last week and told the magazines their unpaid internship programs failed to meet the Employment Standards Act (ESA).

Both magazines shut down their programs Friday and the ministry plans to continue investigating the province’s magazines througout April, according to the Globe and Mail.

Canadian Geographic also closed its unpaid internships on Monday because of the recent developments. The shutdown has affected two interns, J-Source reports.

“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.

Ian Ingles, manager of employer services at Ryerson’s Career Development and Employment Centre, thinks that this “crackdown” in Ontario magazines is the first step to addressing unpaid internships in all sectors.

“We’ve noticed in the office that there are a lot of unpaid positions for many grads, too many of them,” Ingles said. “I’m definitely in favour of this change.”

Ingles suggests that government funded subsidies may be needed to create paid opportunities for students trying to get into the field.

“It’s a rite of passage in many industries, so adapting to that will be a challenge for businesses,” Ingles said. “I can see this topic being prevalent for some time.”

A Toronto Star article in October 2013 cites a study done by two graduate students exploring which individuals are choosing to do paid or unpaid internships. Their research showed that there are upwards of 300,000 unpaid interns in Canada and 100,000 of them are off the record with no workplace safety training.

“There is no such thing, in law, as an unpaid internship,” Ontario Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi said in the article.

Tim Falconer, instructor on the student-produced 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 for tasks like fact-checking and in light of this change, 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.

“It’s a good thing I think that large companies can’t exploit us after we’re finished school,” said fourth-year journalism student Jessica Galang, head of research for the Review  this year. “We’re desperate for jobs, we would work for nothing to get our foot in the door and they know that.”

An unpaid intern from one of the affected magazines, who asked to remain anonymous, found out she was going to be let go 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.”

Etobicoke-Lakeshore Conservative MPP Doug Holyday said that he doesn’t agree with the ministry’s decision to end unpaid internships.

“It’s an educational experience for (interns),” he said. “I can see why they would want to gain these experiences for little or no pay, it’s valuable regardless if they are being paid or not.”

Brandon Ackerman, a fourth-year urban analysis student at Ryerson, said he doesn’t understand why anyone would fight against it. “I think for anyone, the experience is good whether it’s paid or unpaid.

“Free labour and experience for people starting off in their field; it’s a win-win so I don’t understand the big deal,” Ackerman said.

As of April 3, unpaid interns have also been dropped from Rogers-owned Flare and Chatelaine magazines. Fashion Magazine, Quill & Quire, and The Grid have also been affected.

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 2, 2014.

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