The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Are unpaid internships fair?

Two contributors spar over concerns about unpaid internships
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Debate Club is a column that pits writers head-to-head on questions that matter to students. Though it lacks the shaky knees and microphone feedback screeches that typically accompany any oratory competition, rest assured that Debate Club is not for the faint of heart.

Resolution: “Be it resolved that unpaid internships are fair.”

In favour: Zach Rosen (ZR), first-year History and Philosophy student at Trinity College

Opposed: Avneet Sharma (AS), second-year English and Cinema Studies student at Trinity College

ZR: It’s nearly spring, and for many of us, the changing of the seasons is accompanied by a realization: in six short weeks, we will be free from schoolwork, with little else to occupy our newly emancipated time. Unpaid internships are one way to fill the vacuum in our hearts that papers, assignments, and midterms can no longer occupy.

The issue at hand today comes down to whether a distinction can be drawn between an intern and an employee, and my position is in the affirmative. Fundamentally, interns are not at work to contribute or help out in meaningful ways. Instead, an intern is there to observe, learn, and make connections. An intern is working for their own benefit, and should be compensated as such — which is to say, not at all.

AS: Unpaid internships are inherently unfair. They may offer learning experiences in a student’s prospective field, as well as the opportunity to make connections. Yet, such opportunities are only accessible to those who have the financial means to support themselves. Should a student lack a steady income, they may be forced to seek part-time jobs, which they may find unsustainable in regards to time management and mental health.

Ultimately, unpaid internships are for the benefit of employers and the upper class while putting those without similar resources at a disadvantage. It is crucial to view unpaid internships as a method for corporations to exploit students, cut the costs of paid labour, and alleviate their legal obligations and potential liabilities.

ZR: Let’s not kid ourselves here: anything an unpaid intern can do, a current staff member is already doing the other nine months of the year. Anyone can get coffee, make copies, or take notes or messages. An unpaid intern is, by nature, expendable. Unpaid internships are not intended to replace part-time jobs; they simply exist to allow students to gain meaningful experience.

Furthermore, it’s absolutely true that not everyone can afford to do unpaid work. But similarly, not everyone can afford to go to university, and of those of us who can, not all of us can live on campus. It is an unfortunate and problematic fact that the road to achievement is bumpier for some than it is for others, yet condemning unpaid internships — which are beneficial to those do who engage in them — is not a comprehensive solution.

AS: We shouldn’t minimize the contributions that interns make to their respective corporations. Getting coffee, making copies, taking notes and messages may be mundane, but they are tasks that keep a business afloat and organized. Additionally, this scenario suggests that unpaid interns are performing tasks that other employees are paid to do, revealing concerns about exploitation.

I don’t disagree that university itself is unfair — students from lower income households are put at a disadvantage when burdened with tuition, textbook costs, and living expenses. Yet these inequalities are exacerbated when some students can afford to spend their summers working for free, while others are forced to turn down such opportunities in favour of financially feasible, but potentially less meaningful work. This point reveals a more widespread issue of putting students without financial means at a disadvantage, and unpaid internships are clearly part of the problem.

Are unpaid internships unfair?


Poll Maker