Unpaid internships for academic credit are hurting students more than helping them says the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), who is circulating a petition called “Stop Paying to Work.”
The petition is part of a larger initiative being proposed to the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) by the RSU. Ontario is currently in the midst of updating its university funding strategies. As a result, the RSU will be proposing options to the MTCU this month by suggesting they fund unpaid internships for school credits. “The ideal scenario from our angle would be to pay everyone who does an unpaid-for-credit internship, minimum wage,” RSU vice-president education, Cormac McGee said. He also suggested covering travel costs as an alternative proposal to minimum wage.
McGee said it’s different if an internship requires a student to shadow employees. “In a lot of the internships we do, we get thrown in the deep end and we’re doing the same work that someone is getting paid for.”
This issue affects students like Jasmine Percival, a Ryerson social work student, who had to cut back hours from her part-time job while also having to pay tuition fees for the mandatory internship. Percival said the change would really help with worries of having to pay off bills, fees and debts: “Even if it’s minimum wage, that’s fine, but it just helps relieve stress a bit.”
Cassandra Myers, RSU director for the Faculty of Community Services, completed an unpaid internship this past summer. Myers also faced a financial loss due to her inability to maintain a summer job with a full-time unpaid position. “I lost a good $4,000 I would have been making over the summer at my previous job. Instead, I had to babysit on the days that I was off and made roughly $1,000,” she said.
Ryerson’s journalism program currently offers a six week unpaid internship as a credit. The program’s chair Ivor Shapiro made clear that students ask to be a part of the internship program by enrolling in the course.
Internship coordinators who work to find students paid placements have found that very few organizations pay. The ones that do pay students tend to be bound by their unions. If organizations are required to provide students with financial support, Shapiro fears the number of placements available would go down substantially. “I hope I’m wrong about that,” he said.
The Ministry of Labour recently concluded a review into interns in the workplace from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, 2015 to ensure employers are following regulations. The results have yet to be published.