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Unpaid Internship Crackdown At Toronto Life, The Walrus Magazines

Crackdown On Unpaid Internships
Pranav Bhatt/Flickr

Unpaid interns at Toronto Life and The Walrus have been shown the door after a crackdown by Ontario's Ministry of Labour.

The move followed complaints about labour practices, and the government reportedly won't stop there. Come April 1, every ministry inspector is going to target the province's magazine industry, The Globe and Mail reported.

That has a number of magazine publishers, including Laas Turnbull, editor-in-chief and publisher of The Grid, concerned about the future of their own internship programs.

"The whole thing is completely wack-a-doodle: there’s been no consultation or consideration given to the quid pro quo at play," he told the newspaper.

"It’ll be devastating to not only the industry, but to the thousands of would-be journalists trying to enter the work force each year.”

The crackdown means that Toronto Life, which has operated its internship program for 20 years, is losing five personnel, while two are allowed to stay, The Toronto Star reported.

Meanwhile, The Walrus has six interns and they were told they no longer had a job on Thursday morning.

Knight criticized the ministry for its action.

"We would have been very welcoming of people coming and having a conversation with us (about finding) a better way to provide a transition from education to employment for young people," he said.

"But the idea that we can start paying everybody completely misunderstands the nature of the economics of the magazine industry at the moment."

The Walrus issued the following statement on its website:

"The Liberal Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Labour has closed the internship program at the Walrus Foundation. The Ministry of Labour employment standards act inspector has said our four-to-six-month unpaid internships can no longer be offered unless the interns have a formal agreement for a work experience with a vocational school. We have been training future leaders in media and development for ten years, and we are extremely sorry we are no longer able to provide these opportunities, which have assisted many young Ontarians—and Canadians—in bridging the gap from university to paid work and in, many cases, on to stellar careers."

The crackdown comes as calls increase to regulate unpaid internships. Last year, the University of Toronto Students' Union said that more than 300,000 Canadians are "illegally misclassified" as interns, trainees or non-employees, which has the effect of driving wages down and increasing student debt.

Ontario's then-Labour Minister Yasir Naqvi responded by saying that if you perform work for someone, you're considered an employee under the Employment Standards Act.

The crackdown also comes weeks after Ontario NDP MPP Jonah Schein introduced a private members' bill in the legislature in which he proposed an amendment to the Employment Standards Act to include unpaid interns and track who's going unpaid, The Star reported.

But the Act already has protections for unpaid labour, including interns.

It states that interns are considered employees who are entitled to the $10.25 minimum wage ($11 come June 1), although they can work for no pay if they're receiving training and they meet the following conditions:

1) The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.

2) The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.

3) The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.

4) Your training doesn't take someone else's job.

5) Your employer isn't promising you a job at the end of your training.

6) You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.

The Employment Standards Act also doesn't apply to people who are performing work under school programs approved by colleges of applied arts or technology, or universities.

The move has divided opinion within Canada's publishing community. James Cowan, deputy editor at Canadian Business, wrote that unpaid internships are "unethical and uneconomical" and that it's time to ban them.

Meanwhile, Lucas Timmons, data journalist at the Edmonton Journal, tweeted the following:

This is not the first time that major Canadian employers have come under fire for hiring unpaid interns. HootSuite, a Vancouver-based tech company, agreed to pay its interns and back-pay its previous unpaid employees after facing an online backlash last year.

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