An intern in a company: need to be paid or not? Legal and ethical study


A number of students in Quebec Canada at the end of November last year demanded that the internship be paid. Do they have a point?

Some people consider unpaid internships to be a good thing, especially those who have benefited from the internship contract. While some others emphasize that there is forgetting the issue of injustice if we consider students to work for free is normal.

For example, articles in Globe and Mail from 2014 describe the experience of a graduate. He received an offer of no-paid internship at a startup that lacked funds to get the work experience he needed. He called it the first step that kept him on the career path.

The owner of the company said the company also benefited from unpaid internships. That benefit will not reach as much if the company ” employs several people randomly … which they find online .”

The company assessed the apprenticeship as a tool or bridge for recruitment. People who benefit from unpaid internships don’t see it as a problem.

Others assume that the internship must be paid. Darren Walker, now President of the Ford Foundation, in 2016 wrote that paid internshipsensure equal opportunities.

He stressed that young people from capable families were able to work on apprenticeships for weeks or months because their parents were able to pay for their living expenses. Parents’ salaries can still help their children. While parents of students from disadvantaged families cannot finance them.

The students who rallied in Québec said they had to leave paid jobs or work overtime during unpaid internships.

Anything for work opportunities?

This emotional debate will not answer the question of whether students have the right to be paid when they are apprenticed. We need to examine it in terms of definition, law, and economics.

The first fundamental issue: What is the purpose of the internship, and how is the internship different from learning in school? In a definition analysis, a PhD student from Concordia University Ingy Bakir and I found several agreements on responsibility when interning.

Some things include: Who is the intern (still a student, has graduated from college)? How long is the internship (several weeks, several months)? What is the scope of work: Is it clear enough what the tasks are, or can the apprentice employee be expected to do whatever is needed?

By answering these questions the definition of an apprentice converges on one thing: An internship provides clinical or practical work experience that can help students to apply academic learning to a real work environment. Internships are work experience as well as learning.

Although there are various legal rules in different jurisdictions, the explanation of the law provides clearer and simpler definitions. According to the legal consultant Gowling WLG , most labor codes of conduct consider apprentice employees as workers if they do work for the company, they receive orders from the company; and the company benefits from the work.

Only one exception, (they are not called workers) if students carry out their internship assignments as part of an academic program. Most labor codes, including those in Québec, include these exceptions .

One can then argue that the law allows unpaid internships.

Approval for compensation

The second issue is whether all student work experience is free of charge. The answer is no. Financial compensation is part of cooperative education which is a form of other work-learning arrangements.

In this arrangement, when students work they are placed in a paid position.

Many apprentice students are also paid. The most popular component in the program I teach is an internship . Because the demand for our internship students goes beyond what is available, almost all companies pay salaries. And as is the case with the most competitive labor market, companies that do not want to pay receive little or receive low-quality applicants and finally agree to compensate.

CEGEP students expressed their feeling of protesting against unpaid internships in Montreal Canada, November 21 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Ryan Remiorz

Who benefits?

The third issue is whether the company benefits from the work of the apprentice. When viewed from an individual level, it depends on the effectiveness of the apprentice child in carrying out his work. In general, however, the answer is definitely yes, because otherwise the company will not take an apprentice child.

The main reason for opposing the internship wage is that the company bears the costs of the apprentice worker. Some companies say that internships are training. Therefore they cannot bear the costs of training and compensation at once. But this problem is only relevant if the company has to invest significantly for time-consuming supervision.

The inability to pay for an apprentice may be a choice. Research results from the Conference Board of Canada show that Canadian entrepreneurs increased their level of expertise for training investment , reducing annual investment per worker from $ 1,116 in 1993 to $ 889 in 2017.

Other employers view internships as a recruitment fee. After the interview, they test their workers without paying for several weeks and months to see the performance of the workers. But, is it fair to expect prospective workers to live for weeks without pay so employers can reduce the costs of recruitment and training? Can prospective employees who are still working do the same thing?

In other words, there is truth in what students say.

Of course colleges and universities can prevent companies from posting announcements on unpaid internships on campus. But some professions need clinical education to get permission. Agreements between universities and other third parties allow unpaid internship opportunities. Changing that practice will be more challenging.

In addition, the core problem lies in the loopholes in employment rules that allow unpaid internships for students.

And legitimately or not, no paid internships are likely to continue as long as people experience barriers to breaking through employment and some employers see opportunities to get free labor.

Author Bio: Saul Carliner is a Professor of Education at Concordia University