It often seems like the dreaded unpaid internship is just
a sad reality, but according to a recent New York Times article, the
preponderance of expected free labour has risen steadily over the past few
years—a practice that isn’t strictly legal.
“Convinced that many unpaid internships violate minimum
wage laws, officials in Oregon, California and other states have begun
investigations and fined employers,” wrote Steven Greenhouse in a piece for The
New York Times.
“Last year, M. Patricia Smith, then New York’s labour
commissioner, ordered investigations into several firms’ internships. Now, as
the federal Labor Department’s top law enforcement official, she and the wage
and hour division are stepping up enforcement nationwide.”
The unpaid internship debate so often goes back-and-forth (and
often on J-Source as well). Some say it’s slave labour, while others contest
it’s a valuable learning experience and a foot in the door to one’s field. And the latter is certainly the case for some internships, but what about the ones that
come with high expectations and little actual experience and instruction?
“One Ivy League student said she spent an unpaid
three-month internship at a magazine packaging and shipping 20 or 40 apparel
samples a day back to fashion houses that had provided them for photo shoots,”
The U.S. Labor Department lists six criteria that must be
satisfied for an unpaid internship to remain kosher:
1. The training, even though it includes actual operation
of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a
vocational school or academic educational instruction.
2. The training is for the benefit of the trainees.
3. The trainees do not displace regular employees, but work
under their close observation.
4. The employer that provides the training derives no
immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the
employer’s operations may actually be impeded.
5. The trainees are not necessarily entitled to a job at
the conclusion of the training period.
6. The employer and the trainees understand that the
trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.
So, basically, if an internship is unpaid, the structure
and workload should be developed strictly based on what is most beneficial to the
intern. I can’t help but notice that many of the Canadian
unpaid journalism internships don’t seem to stack up.
It’s great that the U.S. is attempting to put a
stop to this, though I can’t say how successful it’ll be since unpaid internships are so ingrained today, especially in media/creative fields. I hope this will be a gentle reminder to
our own government that it should start monitoring unpaid internships more
I’d like to know what you think. Will the U.S.
even get to first base with this plan? Is there any hope of revamping the
unpaid internship industry in Canada?