Like many people, I was appalled by the comments made recently by Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz. He suggested unemployed young people should seek out free internships or volunteer work while they’re looking for employment. Who else but an out-of-touch well-off middle-aged white guy could make such a stupid statement. Let me state right now that I am strongly opposed to unpaid internships and here are my reasons why:
- I believe it’s a form of slave labour and is exploitative. I think it’s shameful for employers to expect human beings to work in their money-making enterprises without compensation.
- Employing free youth labour deprives workers who need even minimum-wage jobs of the opportunity to fill those positions in order to provide for themselves and perhaps their families by earning a living.
- The unemployment rolls are perpetuated by this practice which ultimately costs our economy and taxpayers.
- Young people from rural communities and small towns do not have the advantage of parents living in the city who can provide free room and board.
While I do appreciate the naive good intentions in Poloz’s comments, his perspective reflects a very narrow demographic, that is, people who live in urban areas and have families with the financial wherewithal to support their offspring while they do this free work. I truly understand and endorse the value of internships while students are attending school as it provides valuable on-the-job experience but it should not be an opportunity for employers to snag some poor soul to fetch coffee and dry cleaning while reducing their labour costs.
What about the hundreds of thousands of young Canadians who come from less-affluent rural and remote communities across Canada whose parents do not live in the city and do not have the ability to provide room and board during these unpaid internships? These young people have left their small towns, farms and homes to attend university or college in the city and absolutely must generate income to allow them to live where the jobs are. They do not have the option of free room and board. Would Mr. Poloz be willing to open his basement for these people while they do unpaid volunteer or intern work? He has displayed a total lack of perspective and understanding of life as lived by the ninety-nine percenters in our population. Quite simply, most young people need to be paid in order to put a roof over their heads, buy food and ultimately pay off their student loans.
I’ve read of young people having as many as eight or ten unpaid internship positions with still no hope of a permanent job in sight. Why would employers want to pay staffers when they can get slaves for free? I think the unpaid internship system is wrong and should be illegal. If the work has value, the workers deserve to be paid when it’s not part of their regular school curriculum requirements. Young people should not be expected to work all summer without pay under the pretense of gaining experience. Plain and simple. Employers who engage interns outside of school requirements without compensation should be ashamed. There. I’ve said it.