Editorial: The Provincial Budget Is Silent on Unpaid Internships

Letdowns and Promises in Education Funding

On March 21, the CAQ government unveiled their first budget in the party’s history, which left something to be desired in terms of funding for interns and internships.

The interns’ movement has been in effect in Quebec since 2016, demanding wages and workers’ rights for student interns.

Last November, 58,000 students across 30 student unions in Quebec embarked on a week-long strike against unpaid internships. The year before, 30,000 students took to the streets on International Women’s Day to protest unpaid internships in fields dominated by women. Just this past week, Concordia’s School of Public and Community Affairs, alongside its Journalism department, joined about 35,000 students across the province in a strike for paid internships ahead of the unveiling of the CAQ budget for 2019-2020. This included a march to the steps of the Ministry of Education, hoping to make their demands heard.

What are they asking for? Pay and workplace protections for internships that are done as part of their studies. They also want internships to be covered under Quebec’s labour standards law to ensure protection against harassment, accidents in the workplace, etc. These seem like pretty basic rights, right? However, these rights aren’t afforded to interns at the moment, on top of the fact that many interns are unpaid despite doing real work.

So with all of these movements, and strike committees and student activists who have been working their hardest to make their voices heard, why does it seem like the Legault government isn’t really listening?

Still, we have to give credit where it is due: the budget breakdown for education shows promise and a willingness to invest in the future of young Quebecers. Over the next five years, $1 billion will be rolled out to get kids in school earlier, minimizing the need for state daycare and relieving families of the burden of childcare, particularly women. $4 billion for infrastructure, $25 million to combat school dropout rate, $20 million for more classes for students in special education—at least, we are seeing money go to crucial, often underfunded sectors.

But the lack of a provision for compensating interns in the budget is a huge let down for students across the province, and not just those who have been accelerating strike tactics for over a year. The Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, which has been campaigning outside of the strike movement for better working conditions for interns along with the Union étudiante du Québec, denounced the government’s inaction over unpaid internships.

The minister of education, François Roberge, asserted that scenarios for compensating interns will be presented at the end of April. The question is, will these promised scenarios live up to the demands made by student activists in the strike movement? Only time will tell, but we can only hope that our government doesn’t let us down as it has in the past.