Students should not go into debt while working for free

(Graphic by Steph Truong)

After an unpaid busboy position was offered in a Vancouver hotel restaurant this week, the media jumped on the job offering to highlight the problems with unpaid internship positions. But really, what is the difference between an unpaid busboy or an unpaid office worker or an unpaid bus driver? It is interesting that a busboy position is receiving such attention after years of students suffering in unpaid positions in a variety of fields, including journalism, business and others.

Many students are working in unpaid internships while going to school and struggling with debt and work equally as hard as a busboy. However, despite the misguided attention being given to this one case, any attention given to this issue is a step in the right direction.

The busboy job offering has re-energized the debate over whether unpaid internships take advantage of students. Well, of course they do — that is the nature of unpaid work. If employers can get work done for free to very little cost and face virtually no possible legal recourse, then why wouldn’t they take advantage?         Students are also thrilled at the opportunity to work in their preferred field, and their eagerness is part of the problem.  With limited prospects in the job market, students are forced to take positions that pay poorly or not at all. The parties in control of the situation (employers and legislators) need to act to do what is best morally but also for the economy and economic future of students.

Now that the debate over unpaid internships is back in the public eye, there needs to be a push for legislation to set strict boundaries on what people can do for free. Employers should not be able to exploit students looking for work and should be forced to pay minimum wage or a competitive wage in relation to industry averages. Students should not be working for free while their debt builds. Nor should students in co-op terms be forced to work overtime beyond their prescribed hour quotas and receive no compensation.

Currently, students are in a lose-lose situation where they are paying tuition and going into debt on one hand and on the other they are being exploited in the workplace for little or no money. A standard minimum wage requirement backed by some long-overdue legislation could provide students with a way to manage debt and start their lives post-graduation with reliable and competitive compensation.

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