Finding examples of employee misclassification via the job board on Toronto's Craigslist is like shooting fish in a barrel. The latest example I discovered is for what's advertised as a "Paid Internship", but it's really just another exploitative internship scam designed to subvert the social minimums set out in Ontario's Employment Standards Act, 2000 ("the ESA") such as minimum wage and vacation pay. This post is going to deconstruct an advertisement for an internship in Toronto's cultural sector and then consider whether there's a darker narrative afoot with the rise of intern culture in Canada.
|Bunch Family's Rebecca Brown|
Wow! That's asking a lot from the intern, but wait there's more. The advertisement also requests a "CV and three online writing samples, as well as a cover letter with a little bit about your background, your experience with SEO and SEM and what makes you passionate about kid culture and the digital space." By way of background SEO refers to search engine optimization and SEM refers to search engine marketing, both of which are highly prized technical skills used to boost traffic to websites.
One might be wonder what's the pay for this "Paid Internship" position? Well, it's the princely sum of $150.00 for twenty to thirty hours per week. Now this may be an example of some sort of new math that employers do to feel good about themselves, but it most certainly falls below Ontario's minimum wage of $10.25 and is far from any semblance of a living wage. For twenty to thirty hours per week an employer would have to pay the employee between $205.00 and $307.50 to comply with the ESA.
Turning to the misclassification aspect of this advertisement. This internship breaches s. 1(2) of the ESA on multiple grounds, thereby removing any possibility that Bunch Family could legally pay below the minimum wage. S. 1(2) is breached by breaking prong three of the test as the employer deriving significant benefit from the intern through the writing of daily stories, fact-checking, research, and assisting with SEO/SEM initiatives; furthermore, prong six of the test is also breached by the employer paying remuneration of $150.00 per week. This isn't an internship, rather it's a case of an employer misclassifying an employee as an intern to avoid the obligations arising from the ESA.
This advertisement (BTW this isn't Bunch Family's first internship) is a great example of the day-to-day exploitation that occurs in Toronto's cultural industries. The intern was to have worked under Helen Spitzer, the senior editor at Bunch Family, who is also a prominent music journalist in Toronto; additionally, the intern would be helping with the monthly article in The Grid, a TorStar owned paper with its own problematic history with unpaid internships. This type of misclassification is quite common throughout Canada's media-landscape and is indicative of the widespread undervaluing of our cultural workers' labour.
There's a deeper trend at play that's very troubling, it relates to who gets the opportunity to participate in sectors of the economy that create Canada's cultural history. Be it an internship at Bunch Family, The Grid, or The Walrus - there's an unstated WASPy subtext at work that demands applicants: look like us, talk like us, and be from money. If you look at the mainstream media in Toronto the city's diversity isn't reflected; there's a profound lack of racialized perspectives, differing socio-economic insights, and countless other viewpoints. Internships of this sort contributes to exclusionary conditions where historically marginalized groups are denied the opportunity to fully participate in key institutions in Canadian society and face structural glass ceilings that aren't easily broken. The alienating and socially exclusionary nature of internships can be easily characterized as an emerging form of cultural apartheid that strikes at the heart of democracy, equality, and diversity.
If you want to read more about this issue, take a look at this great article from Briarpatch Magazine; this article from storyboard.ca discussing internships in the cultural sector; and, this wonderful article from Alexandra Kimball talking about how to succeed in journal when you can't afford an internship. Finally, here's Christian Lander telling the world why White folk love unpaid internships, see: