It’s not surprising that unpaid internships are on the rise — the economy is still slow and young graduates are desperate for jobs and work experience.
The unpaid internships that arise from these conditions can be mutually beneficial, but the status quo is unacceptable.
Young workers need greater protection. Canadian interns should consider following the example set by groups of unpaid interns in the United States who have recently filed lawsuits against their employers.
Those who take unpaid internships forgo income for extended periods of time. As such, being an unpaid intern is not a practical choice for those from low-income families. This is a critical problem with the status quo; it exacerbates inequality in the job market.
Internships are an essential experience when starting a career in fields such as politics, fashion or journalism. People from low-income families are already severely underrepresented in these fields. More than just a question of inequality, unpaid internships are a question of perspective. News organizations in particular need employees from a variety of backgrounds.
Making sure that companies pay their interns minimum wage would undoubtedly mean fewer internship opportunities. Still, society has a duty to protect young workers from exploitation. A single reference on a resume is not sufficient compensation for a young person who has given up months or years of their time. That said, strict enforcement could be costly and ineffective and would require new legislation. Luckily, alternative measures are available.
Governments could subsidize companies that pay their interns and educational institutions could compensate students for the time they spend as interns. These initiatives would ensure that interns are properly compensated without reducing the amount of opportunities.
No matter the chosen remedy, young people must take the lead on this issue. They’re the ones directly affected as they’re the individuals that compete for internships. Young people should do their best to “level the playing field” at the critical transition point between education and work, as many of their peers face financial constraints.
— Journal Editorial Board
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