is it time for an anti-internship rebellion?
A former office employee for an Ontario member of the provincial parliament says that her job was replaced with an unpaid internship and is filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labour.
Samantha Bokma, a student at Laurentian University, worked as a constituency assistant in Barrie for local Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Jackson. The job involved “general office upkeep, answering phones, emails,” Bokma told CBC News.
Her contract was set to expire on Aug. 30, but Bokma said she expected her paid work to lead to a part-time job in the fall.
Instead, on Aug. 20 Bokma was told that her contract wouldn’t be extended. The next day, she turned in her letter of resignation, explaining that she needed the extra week to secure a new job elsewhere before her classes started.
A week later, a posting for an unpaid internship at Jackson’s office was distributed on Laurentian University’s campus. Bokma said the responsibilities described in the posting — including reception duties, office administration, responding to constituents and organizing community outreach events — were tasks that she was responsible for as a paid employee.
“This position provided me with much-needed funds to pay for my tuition fees at Laurentian University and it is concerning that this paid, entry-level position has now been replaced by an unpaid internship,” Bokma writes in her complaint.
The Ministry of Labour won’t comment on Bokma’s case, but says that it is investigating her complaint.
Overtime demands and steep tuition costs are placing a burden on many of Canada’s unpaid student interns, who have little recourse to fix their predicament in an educational system that gives employers and schools most of the power.
Attention turned to the internship programs last week, as CBC’s GO Public reported on the sudden death of a 22-year-old Alberta practicum student, Andy Ferguson, who crashed while driving home after being made to work long hours in November 2011.
Alisha Denomme eagerly embarked on a three-week academic, unpaid internship at a strategic branding company in Hamilton, Ont., while studying graphic design at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont. But the experience quickly soured as Denomme struggled to pay tuition, finance her internship and work the long hours.
Still, Denomme was thrilled when the owners decided to hire her part-time after she completed her internship, compensating her slightly above minimum wage. That excitement quickly turned to dejection when she realized they expected her to put in overtime hours for free.
“I was still getting the same amount of work as when I would come in for the whole week,” she says, explaining that she would be given a week’s worth of work to do, despite only being paid for two days.
However, Denomme never worked outside the paid hours, despite feeling pressure to complete the extra work.