Young workers to employers: isn’t our work worth at least the minimum wage?

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The other day, while perusing online job boards, I came across Fairmont Royal York Hotel’s posting for a Housekeeping Intern in Toronto. I also stumbled upon Four Seasons’ postings for a Food and Beverage InternGlobal Analytics Intern, and all their other postings. Initially I scoffed and thought here we go again, more illegal internships. But after reading through the postings I soon realized that they actually aren’t illegal, in spite of how certain I was that they were likely to be.

Fairmont’s internship isn’t illegal because it requires that the successful candidate obtain WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board) coverage through his/her school – something that would likely only happen if the student were taking part in the internship to fulfill some sort of program requirement. In the case of Four Seasons, they explicitly state that only candidates enrolled in a related co-operative program “requiring a co-op placement or internship term for program completion, will be considered.” And, if we look to Ontario’s Employment Standards Act on the Ministry of Labour’s website we find that:

The ESA does not apply to an individual who performs work under a program approved by a college of applied arts and technology or a university. This exception exists to encourage employers to provide students enrolled in a college or university program with practical training to complement their classroom learning.

For this reason, Fairmont and Four Seasons do not make our Name and Shame Wall. At the same time, I can’t help but ask: why won’t Fairmont, Four Seasons and every other multi-million dollar company pay its interns? Companies like Fairmont and Four Seasons are certainly in a position to do so and it is particularly bothersome that companies that offer luxury services or products for presumably wealthier clients opt not to pay their interns. Further, from a corporate social responsibility standpoint, it is in the interest of companies to compensate their interns with at least the minimum wage due to the inequality that unpaid internships perpetuate. Otherwise, companies aren’t living up to their claims that they are in fact “equal opportunity employers.”

Indeed, an intern working and living in Toronto or any other city where living costs are higher would likely find it difficult to make ends meet without some form of support where possible (whether it be his/her own savings or loved ones). And, I don’t think I have to mention that a student’s school loans often also add to the mix.

In a perfect world companies that provide young people with an opportunity to gain practical knowledge and skills in the workplace would not stop short of extending the benefits that come with a job to their interns – the minimum wage, at the very least. We here at the Canadian Intern Association encourage companies to genuinely invest in young talent instead of checking off that they’ve met all the conditions outlined in the Employment Standards Act – another piece to this puzzle that may need some attention.

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