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Quebec students protest unpaid internships

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Students protest unpaid internships – Close to 58,000 CEGEP and University students across the province boycotted their unpaid internships and took to the streets in protest this week. Many of them, who are working in fields such as nursing, occupational therapy, education and social work, claim the work they are doing is the same as the work being done by regular employees – and it is unfair. In fact, they feel they are being exploited – and notably the majority of those internships are held by women.

There is no protection for them because student internships are not considered work and therefore not regulated under Quebec’s labour laws. They are often left overworked, unprotected – and unpaid. Yet internships in some areas such as engineering and computer science are often paid.

The Executive Director of the Canadian Intern Association, William Webb, was cited as saying in a Globe and Mail report, ‘the issue is a problem across Canada. Unpaid internships effectively favour students from better-off families who can afford to work for no wages. Students pay university tuition… you’re paying the educational institution for the privilege to work for free.’

Many students hold down more than one part-time job, in between attending classes and doing their internships, of which they require to attain their degrees. They struggle just to keep their heads up and on top of all that – they are barely making ends meet.

In a statement, CAQ Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said he was ‘aware of the situation and the worries students have over compensation for internships. I will meet with students, schools and internship providers to find solutions that will satisfy all parties.’ Let it be noted that when the CAQ was the opposition party in the National Assembly, they supported paying for teaching and psychology internships.

As Quebecers know well, student protests in this province are to be taken seriously. Who doesn’t remember the ‘Maple Spring’ protests back in 2012 over a proposed 75% hike in the cost of tuition? And now in 2018, a little over six years later, the student organizers behind the ‘Unpaid Internship’ protests have already announced they will begin a general, unlimited strike in January 2019 if their needs and demands are not met. Could there be a repeat of the ‘Casserole’ marches, with pots and pans being banged loudly through the streets and neighbourhoods of Montreal? Or will the CAQ ‘walk their talk’ and come through for them?

Bonnie Wurst – info@mtltimes.ca

 

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