For the first time ever, the Ontario Ministry of Labour has proactively enforced provincial laws that protect students and workers in an effort to crack down on internship violations.
Staff from the ministry attended 56 businesses between April and June to see how they adhere to the Employment Standards Act for their interns. Officials issued 36 compliance orders. The Ministry of Labour website lists monetary violation, such as insufficient wages and vacation pay, and non-monetary violations for wage statements, record keeping and hours of work.
“A lot of [the enforcement] would be interviewing the employers and checking employment records to see whether everything is in compliance with the law,” Bruce Skeaff, media relations coordinator for the Ontario Ministry of Labour, said.
Employment Standards officers visited types of businesses that are known to frequently use interns such as firms in advertising, public relations, computer systems design and consultants.
Ella Henry, co-chair of the advocacy group Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, calls this recent enforcement blitz a good first step, but she said more needs to be done.
“What we really need to see is some more big-picture law reform rather than, sort of, tweaks here and there,” Henry said.
Henry noted it is up to interns to file complaints with the Ministry of Labour but has called on the ministry to conduct more oversight and to continue investigating violations on a proactive basis.
Humber College works with several employers as they employ students as interns within their organizations. Sophia Hadzipetros, longtime CBC executive and an internship coordinator in the School of Media Studies and Information Technology, recommended that students “tread cautiously” when it comes to accepting internships outside of a school-related program.
“Don’t expect that working for free will get you a job somewhere,” Hadzipetros said.
She added that companies she works with are paying more attention and that they are checking to ensure that the interns they take on are doing the work as it relates to their courses.