Editorial: Paying People for Their Work Should Not Be Radical

As Strikes Take Over Quebec, It’s Time Interns’ Work Is Taken Seriously

The exploitation of workers is something we cannot abide by.

This exploitation extends towards students, who are subject to unfair treatment as their labour is routinely exploited through unpaid internships. In some departments, unpaid internships are a necessity, and a long standing issue we can no longer ignore. The dependency on unpaid labour should no longer be normalized at the expense of students’ mental, physical and financial well-being.

The reliance on students’ labour is exploitative, and compensation for students should include more than just gaining work experience. Many students are faced with the daunting task of balancing their classes and internships with their part-time jobs to pay the bills. With some students already in precarious financial situations, the added pressure of unpaid internships poses challenging roadblocks for students.

Unpaid internships also contribute to wage-gap between women and men, since fields traditionally occupied by women—like social work, nursing and teaching—often demand that students take on unpaid internships.

Intern strikes will be held throughout this week and about 58,000 Quebec students are taking in an effort to pressure the provincial government to ensure financial compensation is provided for all internships.

In an act of solidarity with their students, the faculty from McGill’s School of Social Work voted in favour of cancelling class between Nov. 19 and Nov. 23, highlighting their support of students. It’s unfortunate to see that McGill’s administration has just announced they will prohibit the department from enforcing this decision.

Over 30 student associations across the province, 20 of which are Montreal-based, will participate in strikes this week. Should their demands not be met an unlimited strike will be called in the winter.

Students from Université du Québec à Montréal and Université de Montréal make up the majority of Montreal students on strike this week, while McGill will be the only anglophone school that has any students planning to take part as of now.

Where is Concordia?

Last year, the Concordia Student Union fought for unpaid internships, but have remained absent from recent actions against unpaid internships. Concordia students, and other students at McGill, have been more focused on anti-sexual violence campaigns. While we acknowledge this is an ongoing and important concern between both universities, the CSU should also not shy away from addressing the exploitative nature of unpaid internships.

Why advocate against unpaid internships, only to later balk in the face of actual action being taken in what could be the biggest student strike of the year?

In late September, Coalition Avenir Québec candidate Christopher Skeete said at a student issues debate at Concordia that “most internships involve real work, so there should be real pay.”

Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge says that the government “[will be] taking action” on this issue. While the education minister has told students their movement is “premature,” the government hasn’t actually said what they’re planning on doing, saying only that they’re studying the question.

Students shouldn’t have to wait and see what the government thinks if they want to see change as soon as possible.

Unpaid work is an issue that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Depending on student labour without proper compensation cannot continue and if an unlimited strike is what it takes to incite change, then maybe one should happen.

Being properly paid for your work isn’t radical, but if we can’t agree on that, then radical action needs to be taken.