We need to normalize paying student interns

student interns
Image by: Alison Andrade

As Canadians, we like to pride ourselves on the notion we’re more progressive than the US will ever be. But while America’s notorious unpaid internships are illegal in Canada, that doesn’t mean they aren’t alive and well within our own borders.

Unpaid student internships are technically illegal, but some provinces allow them when associated with a university or college. In these cases, companies will pay students in experience rather than cash.

While the opportunity to work in the “real world” is certainly an invaluable experience, not everyone can afford to work for free, especially as a student.

In the 50s, the economic boom meant young people could find work and the fair wages to support themselves. A hundred and twenty years later, that’s no longer the case, yet we still expect young people to pave their own way in the world even though the economic effects of the pandemic are a devastating reality.

Society pushes the notion that students can afford unpaid internships simply because they can afford to go to school. But the reality is low-income students go to university and college too, whether by applying for grants or working enough to cover their tuition expenses.

Unpaid internships put those students at a disadvantage. When being a student is a full-time job in itself, unpaid labour isn’t feasible for those relying on a basic income to survive.

And let’s face it: real-world experience doesn’t pay the bills.

It’s not that these positions aren’t valuable—they are. But every student should have an equal opportunity to attain them, regardless of their income bracket. Denying students basic pay only solidifies cycles of poverty, prioritizing wealthier students who can afford unpaid labour over low-income students who can’t.

Students shouldn’t feel greedy for wanting money. Young people are hard workers and, as interns, contribute value to their companies. That alone warrants a paycheck.

The government needs to invest in young people. It’s understandable that companies aren’t making as much money as they were pre-pandemic. But instead of letting unpaid internships slide, the government should supply companies with grants to pay students.

Students aren’t asking for much, and they shouldn’t have to ask at all; compensating interns—students or otherwise—should be a given.

At a time when the pandemic is only strengthening economic divides and disproportionately affecting low-income families, we need to give students equal footing regardless of their economic backgrounds. Banning unpaid student labour once and for all is the way to do that.

Journal Editorial Board



unpaid internships

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