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The student union has conceded its fight to win paid internships for students earning credit is likely a losing one for now, says RSU vice-president education, Cormac McGee.
Two weeks ago, the RSU launched the petition “Stop Paying to Work,” which has garnered over 2,700 signatures but after speaking with the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, McGee, says the ministry was honest in saying this issue is not at the top of their list. “They also said the only way to get the issue to the top is to keep pushing,” said McGee.
Andrew Langille, a Toronto-based labour lawyer, said, “(The ministry) is lying if they’re saying this issue is not a top priority because they’ve been studying this issue.”
In Ontario, unpaid internships are illegal and if an intern works for another person or a company, they are considered to be an employee, according to the ministry of labour. This entitles to intern to Employment Standards Act rights such as the minimum wage. However, there are some exceptions, one which includes that unpaid internships are legal if they are used as a school credit.
Langille said these unpaid internships are “extremely damaging” to students, “These students have no rights that regular employees have, which creates a huge power imbalance” he said.
Hanna Otto, fourth-year fashion communications student, said even if the internship is more of a networking experience than hands-on work, payment should still be expected.
Ryerson fashion students are some of the students on campus who must complete 400 hours in an internship before graduation.
“When I did my internship, it was with a smaller business so I understood not being paid right away,” said Otto. “With larger companies, which is what most fashion students aim for, they can afford it.”
The petition continues to circulate online and McGee said the RSU will continue efforts to tackle this issue.