Unpaid work degrades the employees
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
Whether it’s working in retail, writing for a publication, or creating projects in an office, a job is a job. That means getting paid for it. After all, we all have to pay for rent and food. Sadly, it’s becoming more and more common to hire people—especially students—for unpaid jobs. Welcome to the wonderful world of unpaid internships.
Finding a job, especially one in the industry you want to work in, is tougher than ever these days. There’s the catch-22 of not having experience and needing experience in order to get experience. Unfortunately, many companies will hire interns for below-minimum wage or no pay at all. Instead, these internships are a way to develop experience, network, and get a feel for the industry. Some of them can even lead to a paid position after a satisfactory trial period—in other words, doing the exact same job you’ve been doing the whole time, but now getting paid as you legally should be. While such practices are technically illegal in BC, they’re difficult to define and are accompanied by loopholes, and those who partake are often oblivious to the law.
It’s not just internships either. The idea of unpaid work is very common in the art industry, a field notoriously difficult to make any money in. Almost every musician, actor, painter, etc. can tell a story of the time they were asked to do their jobs for free. Examples include playing a free concert because the venue “can’t afford” (doesn’t want) to pay you; acting in a low-budget film in exchange for food and “full reel credit”; and doing things that take years of development to do, that other more successful people in the field get paid to do.
Offering unpaid work is degrading. It implies that the work and the person doing it are not worthy of reimbursement. It suggests that trying to make a career out of what you enjoy doing is pointless and even laughable. Working for free is slave labour, yet the mentality in the unpaid work world is that this should be accepted without question. It suggests that those who work in an industry must gain “exposure” through doing unpaid work just to prove their worth, instead of being paid at once. While this is most common with arts-based gigs and jobs, it can be found in almost every industry.
As long as unpaid jobs keep being applied for, they will be encouraged in the workforce. More and more employees will offer them, and it will become even more difficult to find meaningful paid work. Do yourself a favour and don’t accept unpaid jobs. Demand to be paid at least minimum wage for the work you’re doing, just like any other professional in the field. If no one was willing to sacrifice their professionalism, all unpaid gigs and jobs would disappear. Employers would realize all work should be compensated for and jobs would become easier to find. In addition, there would be a much greater demand for the work. Everyone wins when wages are offered.