At CWA Canada’s National Representative Council (NRC) meeting on April 17, delegates unanimously agreed to endorse two documents, both of which aim to protect media interns in the workplace.
The first document presented to the NRC by the CWA Canada Associate Member Steering Committee was a policy statement on the equitable use of interns. This document states that all interns should receive compensation, with the exception of students from accredited post-secondary institutions on a short-term educational placement, and that equitable terms of employment should be outlined in the collective agreement.
The policy also states that CWA Canada has a role to play in advocating for employers to compensate students, and outlines that all interns must receive a signed contract outlining the responsibilities of the intern and employer, avenues of recourse for the intern, the length of the contract, the hours of work, and the requirement of regular feedback and mentoring.
CWA Canada Associate Members — a form of union membership for student, volunteer and precarious media workers — developed this policy out of concern that unpaid internships are making careers in the media inaccessible to people from historically marginalized communities, place young people further at risk of harassment and unsafe work conditions, and teach emerging media workers not to value their labour.
The second document endorsed by the NRC was NDP MP Lauren Liu’s private member’s bill, the Intern Protection Act (which was defeated at second reading in the House of Commons in the week following the NRC meeting). Bill C-636 was intended to address the Canada Labour Code’s lack of workplace protections for interns in federally regulated industries; it would extend employment standards, such as hours of work, health and safety, and public holidays, to all interns, paid and unpaid.
The bill was brought to the House shortly before the federal government included some amendments to the Canada Labour Code in its most recent budget. However, these amendments are limited to extending health and safety protections to interns and limiting the duration of internships, rather than protecting interns against exploitation and harassment.
CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon said the new policies adopted at the NRC would help interns by raising awareness about their wages and working conditions and by putting pressure on employers to act decently.
“This is simply a matter of treating interns fairly,” O’Hanlon said. “No one should be forced to work for free or be taken advantage of just because they are young. A decent employer should treat interns decently.”
CWA Canada Associate Members recently held the official launch of Media Works, in its ongoing efforts to educate media workers on their labour rights and to encourage and improve labour reporting. Both components of the project, which includes 14 labour reporting pieces and an informative handbook, can be found online at media-works.org.
CWA Canada currently has 430 Associate Members across the country. The free memberships offer support to students and precarious media workers through mentoring, training, networking and paid freelance opportunities. The program has successfully established more than 100 mentorships.
“As the program enters its fourth year, it’s incredibly rewarding to see some of the impacts of our organizing efforts,” said Associate Member Organizer Katherine Lapointe. “At events and in online conversations, we’ve seen a significant shift in the outlook of our members. Many now recognize the value of their labour and the need to collectively fight for fair working conditions for our generation of media workers.”
The annual meeting took place in Ottawa, and was attended by CWA Canada representatives from across Canada.
Kayla Perry is a student at Laurentian University, where she is working towards completing a specialization in Communication Studies. She is also Editor-in-Chief of the Lambda newspaper, and a member of the CWA Canada Associate Member Steering Committee.
To get involved in the campaign to support emerging media workers, contact Katherine Lapointe, CWA Canada Associate Member Organizer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-795-8598.