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Quebec Students Gear Up to Fight Against Unpaid Internships BY MIRIAM LAFONTAINE @ MIRILAFONTAINE

Students all over the world today have experienced, or will experience, unpaid internships. Whether it’s due to a course requirement for graduation, or as a point of entry into a competitive job market, internships are part of a new reality faced by students everywhere. Internships are more than a method of gaining skills associated with a student’s career of choice. The exponential growth of unpaid internships represents a structural change in the economy, and the effects of this change are felt everywhere. Companies lay off, or don’t hire, workers because they rely on the unpaid labour of interns. Entry-level jobs once seen as a necessary liability are more and more being

transformed into unpaid internships. Training periods, which were historically paid for by companies, are less likely to be paid. More fields than ever rely on the labour of interns for basic tasks. This reality has not come without contestation. Mobilization against unpaid internships began last year on Montreal campuses like Universit du Qu bec Montr al. The fight for remunerated student labour is now gradually spreading to Concordia and McGill Universities, where both undergraduate unions have begun year-long campaigns to push for paid internships. Organizers hope to build a broad-based student movement against unpaid internships that’s capable of challenging this new system of unpaid labour. In many programs at Concordia, an internship is required for graduation. Students get a form of compensation for their work in these internships, since they get course credit in return. However, very few programs at Concordia enforce that internships be paid. In fact, some programs go so far as to only allow students to get course credit if the internship is unpaid. If you’re a student in applied human sciences, art education, geography, education, music, theatre, contemporary dance, or human relations, you’re one of those students only allowed to take unpaid internships. The Concordia Student Union wants to see an end to that. Its campaign for the year is to lay down the groundwork to ensure that, in the future, all for-credit internships at Concordia are paid. To do so, the CSU is working hand in hand with the Association for the Voice of Educa-

tion in Quebec, the provincial federation they’re part of, which will focus on putting pressure on the provincial level. But before the CSU and AVEQ start making formal demands to Concordia’s administration and the provincial government, they need to convince students to change the lens through which they view their own education and their own labour. “It only makes sense that it should be remunerated, it is labour. The discourse needs to be shifted in terms of how we talk about these things,” says Asma Mushtaq, the academic and advocacy coordinator with the CSU, who’s helping lead their yearly campaign against unpaid internships. Both her and the CSU’s mobilization coordinator Ahmed Badr, who is also leading the campaign, agree that students are routinely exploited by employers who feel they are doing students a favour by giving them unpaid internships. “We accept unpaid internships because we need to get experience, we need to have it for our careers,” says Badr. “Some people take advantage of our need to have experience.” They hope that as students become more vocal about their needs, employers will change the way they interact with student labour and begin to place a higher value on it. Those in typically feminine fields tend to get the shorter end of the stick, says Mushtaq.“There’s unequal conditions in terms of how [unpaid internships] are applied, and there’s not a standardized benchmark for it,” she explains. “Especially for generally feminized fields.” Students from the faculty of Engineering and Computer Science who get accepted into Concordia’s Institute for Aerospace Design and Innovation get the chance to take on paid internships. These internships aren’t for course credit, but unlike a student in art education who will be forced to do unpaid internships to graduate, students in N O V E M B E R 2 0 17

Volume 38, Issue 3  
Volume 38, Issue 3