Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ontario labour ministry cracks down on unpaid magazine internships, starting with Toronto Life

Come Monday, five unpaid interns at Toronto Life magazine will be out of work because of a visit this week by an inspector of the employment standards branch of the Ontario Ministry of Labour. St. Joseph Media has been told that under the provisions of the Employment Standards Act it can no longer offer four-month unpaid internships unless the interns are fulfilling a job placement requirement from a school of higher education. This is not the case for most interns at Toronto Life historically, although two of the current 7 interns qualify and will be staying on. 

The ministry inspector also advised that, though he was starting with Toronto Life, the policy will be enforced later with other St. Joseph magazines and, indeed eventually, all magazines in Ontario. 

The interns were briefed about what is happening by St. Joseph CEO Douglas Knight. He said that he found the situation "bizarre", particularly since there was no notice or discussion. The ministry move effectively ends a successful 20-year program that has always been oversubscribed and in great demand by college and university graduates wanting to get into the magazine industry, he said. Most Toronto Life interns do such work as fact-checking and research or online posting for Torontolife.com as well as participating in story conferences and production meetings.

Last June, the-then* minister of labour, Yasir Naqvi, responded to a call by the University of Toronto students' union for a ban on unpaid internships and said in a letter:
“If you perform work for someone – unless you are self-employed, in a co-op placement, or a trainee – you are an employee covered under the Employment Standards Act and should be paid – it doesn’t matter if you are called an ‘intern’ or not.”
According to the ministry website, interns are considered to be employees, entitled to the minimum wage (which will be $11 an hour starting June 1) and other employment benefits such as vacation pay, unless the internships meet ALL of the following under the terms of the Employment Standards Act:
  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school. 
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern who receives 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. The intern's training doesn't take someone else's job.
  5. The employer isn't promising a job at the end of the training.
  6. The intern has been told that they will not be paid for their time.
*Naqvi was promoted in this week's cabinet shuffle to Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services; he was succeeded as Minister of Labour by Kevin Flynn.

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24 Comments:

Blogger Heather Li said...

I agree with the Labour Ministry cracking down on this. Toronto Life has enough money to pay their interns a measly $11/hour.

The rampant unpaid internships in journalism is creating an elitist divide in an industry that's originally rooted in standing up for disenfranchised voices.

4:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some in the industry (including you, D.B.) have at the very least moaned and grumbled about how unpaid internships were essentially exploitative. Students pay money to go to school but when on-the-job experience is handed out gratis the bellyachers couldn't resist.

This is bad news, for interns and publishers alike.

9:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks good on them. Nothing like slave labour. Cant wait until they go after all the other media companies.

9:39 pm  
Blogger wmacphail said...

Great news. Hope to see more enforcement

7:16 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know of at least one national magazine that not only relies on unpaid interns to do editorial duties that otherwise would be performed by junior staff, but also a fair amount of writing — for both the print publication and online — that in the past was done by professional freelancers. I'm sure it's not the only one. We all understand the bottom line benefit to companies, especially with advertising revenue skimpy since late 2008, but the take-home pay and perks afforded to upper management have not seen a corresponding hit. Also, this impacts the quality of the content, and drives readers away. The beauty of a great magazine is that even a 100-word blurb can be a little gem of a story. That's why I subscribe to the New Yorker and buy Outside at the newsstand. Canadian magazines that use interns to write an increasing percentage of their copy, even short blurbs, are shooting themselves in the feet for short-term gain. In the long run, the Ontario government's crackdown could actually help restore some fiscal reality.

8:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard Apple, with 100 Billion in the cash in the bank, is looking for volunteers, I mean "interns" who want to work in Apple Retail Stores to gain valuable experience.

9:24 am  
Anonymous Karl Marx said...

Is Minimum Wage really all too much for some companies? If McDonald's and Walmart can pay minimum wage, why can't all these companies who use interns do as well?

9:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather, it is a big assumption you are making about Toronto Life having enough money to pay interns. You might want to ask some of the paid staff how long it has been since they have seen any kind of pay increase. The answer is years.

10:01 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking forward to seeing this affect a lot more than just magazines. There are many industries where "interns" (doing what used to be entry-level jobs, only for shorter amounts of time, with little or no training incorporated) are being unpaid or paid only an "honorarium" or in kind.

10:39 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

TO Life's program has been successful, but what Knight doesn't say here (or wasn't quoted as saying) is that up until a few years ago, it also paid---not a lot (a monthly stipend) but better than nothing. Enough to pay one-third of the rent on a crummy 3-bedroom apartment, at least.

10:42 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, Heritage has been channelling money to these commercial enterprises for years through the Support for Editorial Content program, without ever once asking the question why some of that support wasn't allotted to paying interns even a minimum wage.

It can be argued that the experience is invaluable and Toronto Life and magazines like it have produced fine journalists and editors through their internship program, some of whom are even employed by them. However there is no excuse for a company that turns a profit to not even pay a bus pass let alone an honorarium.

As for the long term effects, given that Ryerson is not a co-op program and summer and post-grad internships have been a key component of the BJourn career path, I expect they will need to scramble to adapt.

It is a shame that much of the skills development matching funding that used to be available has disappeared. Perhaps Heritage should be looking at that as an opportunity to re-apportion their support to publishers.

10:47 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they are being let go as a result of proper enforcement then these interns should be compensated for the time they spent with Toronto life.

11:27 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Toronto Life has more than 100 paid positions listed on their masthead.

But they can't afford to pay minimum wage to half a dozen interns.

Amazing.

11:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good. This unpaid internship stuff has to stop. It is extremely exploitative of students who are already drowning in student debt. Cut the editor-in-chief's pay by a slight amount and pay these people as opposed to treating them like slaves.

11:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely right move by government. The labour laws in this province and country desperately need rebooting in almost all industries to end unpaid work under the label of "internships" and contracts or part time work rather than jobs so that companies don't need to hire anyone and avoid paying even the most basic of benefits. What's going on in this country that we allow such poor working conditions and slave labour?

12:15 pm  
Anonymous David Hayes said...

So you pay for an education (let's say, journalism school) & when you graduate, well-trained, you should accept unpaid internships? Magazines have for years enjoyed having young people qualified enough to have been hired to a junior position a couple of decades ago working for free. A bizarre situation not common in other industries. So, umm, do for for-profit publications have people "working" for them in advertising or circulation for free? Get their IT needs handled by people who do agree to do so pro bono? So many publications pay where they have to & take advantage of a situation where they can get away with it - which has traditionally been young editorial staff. (What does that say about the value placed on editorial, only the point of a magazine? Sadly, some (many?) owners/publishers will take revenge by not hiring any interns. For awhile, I guess, they'll load even more work on already over-worked staff. To call this a "business plan" is an insult to so many industries that don't expect young people to work for free.

12:40 pm  
Blogger Kat Tancock said...

Can they please kill the unpaid student internships too? Makes my blood boil that they're creating this double standard. Either it's education or it's work, but don't split it down the middle.

3:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The end of unpaid internships can't come soon enough, but for it to be an unequivocally good thing people have to be willing to pay a bit more for their culture, so that those producing it can earn a living, or at least a minimum, wage. If money is going to go out, it also has to come in.

5:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather Li, I don't agree with unpaid internships, but your assumption that Toronto Life has "more than enough money to pay interns" is incorrect. When's the last time you counted the amount of pages, or people on the masthead on a current issue on any large or national publication to one from pre-2008? Staff, content, and pages have all been on a decline, and existing staff have not had raises in over 4 years due to the lack in revenue. Sadly cutting these programs will not mean that interns will start being paid. Instead it will mean that junior staff will not get any experience at all in their industry, making it even harder to find a job. And instead those lucky few still to have a job with these publications will be forced to just work unpaid overtime to make up the slack.

5:30 pm  
Blogger Barry Rueger said...

Oh Lord, the old "Really, they just can't afford to pay their employees" argument that seems to get trotted out every time some government proposes raising the minimum wage.

Or in this case, forces them to actually pay their employees.

If your company can only survive on the back of slave labour then you have significant management problems. Instead of screwing over young students you should be looking at the senior people who obviously have mis-managed your company to the point where (presumably) it is on bankruptcy's doorstep.

I'm fed up with this stupid argument (most often from retail and service employers) and come down to this:

If paying your employees is enough to put you out of business, then good riddance. No-one will miss you.

10:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree.

10:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought: rebuild the internship into an authentic apprenticeship. Perhaps Walrus's internship program worked much like a traditional apprenticeship with "experts" working closely with "juniors" mentoring and guiding, I don't know. But I do know there is value in mentorships. If a structure could be put in place where both parties are accountable for achieving certain goals it could be a win win.

12:16 pm  
Anonymous Taddle Creek said...

Taddle Creek had a protégé internmentship for three years that worked exactly as the above commenter describes. It was amazing how many people 1) knee-jerk accused the magazine of taking advantage of interns even though all they were required to do was learn from experts and were in no way required to do any work for the magazine, and 2) kept asking, Why are you doing this? What's in it for you?

10:53 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Getting rid of unpaid internships, including those affiliated with school programs, will be a huge benefit to small publishers.

Ever since the large, downtown publications jumped on the unpaid intern bandwagon, trade and small specialty magazines have not been able to attract interns, paid or unpaid.

If Toronto Life et al refuse to pay minimum wage it will level the playing field for smaller pubs who are happy to pay, but to date only attract those who were not accepted to the bigger places.

The level of candidates for entry level positions (paid) will now be higher since unpaid internships were getting the pick of the litter.

Ban free internships and improve the quality of Canadian magazines across the board. After all Canada's magazine industry is much bigger than Toronto Life.

11:09 am  

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