Some students at Thompson Rivers University ditched classes on Wednesday to show solidarity with thousands of fellow learners in Quebec who are on strike this week to protest unpaid internships in that province.
Rally organizer and bachelor of social work student Rob Long said the show of support was also meant to raise awareness about unpaid internships in B.C.
“We want to advocate for changes to laws. We also want to advocate for changes for university policy structures so that students are able to get credit and be paid for their internships,” Long said.
The one-hour protest was held outside the Arts and Education Building on campus.
The timing of the protest — from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. — was scheduled to have minimal impact on students missing classes.
“This is a positive event that focuses on solutions and part of that, for now, is to try not to disrupt people’s day-to-day lives too much,” Long said.
In Quebec, more than 54,000 students at junior colleges and universities walked out of class this week, seeking pay and workplace protections for internships undertaken as part of their studies.
Some of the 32 student associations that voted to strike will be out all week, while others are striking for one, two or three days.
According to Quebec Premier François Roberge the walkout is “premature” because his government is in the midst of taking action on this issue.
In B.C. unpaid internships are illegal, but that’s not the case for academic internships — also known as practicums — because students receive credits towards the completion of a degree, Long noted.
“However, they’re still doing work that contributes to the workforce. They’re still providing essential services that tie our society together,” he said
There are multiple examples of unpaid internships at TRU, Long said, noting the social work program in which he’s enrolled.
“In the social work program, we’re expected to do 600 hours of on site practicum learning and we pay thousands of dollars to the university for that experience,” he said.
Long said he has struggled to support himself while balancing a part-time job and an unpaid internship.
“I’ve had members of my cohort have to defer graduation because they can’t afford to do practicum and take other courses at the same time,” he said.
“We have students burn out because they’re working seven days a week with no time off. We have a collective impact that right now is pretty harmful.”
Long said there are a variety of ideas on how to address the issue, including government grants or having a pool of funds from practicum students redistributed to subsidize wages.
The rally, which drew about 30 people, mostly from the social work program, involved a few speeches from students and community members on labour rights.
While this is a big issue in eastern Canada, Long said not enough people are talking about it in Western Canada — a dialogue he hopes the rally will help start.
— with files from Canadian Press