Unpaid Internships In Canada

VFX workers in Ontario, Canada have pointed me to a discussion about job postings by an animation studio called Guru for unpaid internships.

Apparently the post garnered so much outrage in the comments section that the site took the post down and instead put up an article that seems to whitewash the issue:

We’re asking if these interns should be getting paid for their work or not.  But therein lies the conundrum.  Because they’re not getting paid, they’re not technically employees, and therefore, not covered under the employment standards act.  They’re volunteers, pure and simple.

But the commenters continued to take a stand. Here were a few that I feel were compelling:

At least in China, a college grad who can only get a job at an IPad factory gets paid $22US a day.

Canadian animators with college education and “1-2 years experience” are only offered unpaid internships for full time work?

To make matters worse, the province uses taxpayer money to pay the producers to do the work in Ontario. So the students are indirectly paying to work for free:

Isn’t the 20% salary Ontario animation tax credit incentive enough?

Look, it doesn’t matter at all what the law says. Artists in Ontario can easily end this practice by forming a union that sets appropriate standards. Have the employers sign a collective bargaining agreement that sets wage minimums for all workers.

I personally feel internships should be banned. I find it disgusting that after going to school for years in VFX training that you are expected to “pay your dues” and take an unpaid internship for a project that exists for a profit. Wasn’t paying thousands of dollars in tuition enough?

The excuse by employers for unpaid internships is usually to assess if you’re a competent and good worker but isn’t that true for all jobs that are paid? No matter how experienced or how well you are paid you are being assessed everyday. If you aren’t cutting it you get fired. The only difference is with an unpaid internship the employer gets free work. Of course they know you’re a competent worker, why would  they want you to waste their time if they knew you couldn’t do the work for them?

One thing is for sure, hats off to the artists in Ontario for speaking out against this. Remember almost a year ago when these kinds of things would happen in Canada and workers were too scared to speak out? Know hope.

Employers, if you want charity, go to a church.

Soldier On.


15 Responses to Unpaid Internships In Canada

  1. N says:

    Grasping a straws?

    One studio offering unpaid internships means we must unionize to save Ontario?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      One too many. I have zero tolerance for employers who expect people to work for free.

      • N says:

        Unpaid internships are extremely common for university students. Most of them actually take these positions for school credits in their 2nd/3rd years. My sister is a biologist and has done unpaid internships for both the government and for multinational agricultural companies during and shortly after her studies.

        While I agree, if you’re talented, don’t work for free. But if you’re still in school and don’t quite have the skills to land a gig yet, it’s a great learning opportunity and a chance to start networking. Many internships lead to paying gigs after you’ve proven yourself to be a good fit.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I’m a bit confused, your first post implies unpaid internships are rare but then extremely common. I appreciate the opinion about your mom working unpaid internships but its a bit anecdotal.

        It’s pretty simple. The minute you step in to a place to work, you should be paid.

  2. tristan says:

    Unpaid internships are for people with Zero experience and Zero skills – it’s vocational training as an alternative to a college or university.

    Asking a person with a degree and 1-2 years experience to work as an unpaid intern is extortion, IMO.

  3. Kreemasumgai says:

    Even people who do get paid do a lot of unpaid work, it’s called unpaid/uncompensated overtime, every VFX studio in Ontario has either gotten sued already, or has enough dirt on them to get sued.
    A $7 dinner reinbursement does not make up for working till 11pm.

    • Sean says:

      Agreed. All Ontario studios are the same story. It’s not only Guru who is doing shady stuff.

      Paid workers are trapped because they have no where else to go that’s better. As you say, I work at a studio that offers you dinner without pay to stay the night. It got to the point where they refused to buy us dinner because we would only work $7 worth of overtime and leave.

      I’m glad to see people are starting to feel the same way and beginning to put a stand to do this.

      It’s been going on for far too long. We seriously need a union here!

      Can we please organize with the IATSE?

      Or does it need to get worse before we do something?

  4. Paul says:

    I hope that all of you realize that this is a lot bigger than just unpaid OT and getting screwed over lunch/dinner. I’m talking more about towers and zombies societies spreading all across the northern hemisphere here. Heads might need to roll in the near future.

  5. charlie says:

    whitewash? I don’t think the original article did that at all.

  6. Rich says:

    There was no white wash in that article.

  7. obafkps says:


    No need to form a union just do not take the job.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      But graduates are taking the unpaid job and this negatively effects the prospects of future workers by making this an accepted practice and hurts current workers’ wages.

  8. Paul says:

    Firstly, an intern that is separated from production is really not getting much additional value outside what they are receiving in school. The value of an internship is to learn the ropes in a production setting, and to gain exposure to the real world application of their craft. A good internship should result in an individual’s knowing where they sit relative to their peers, what will be expected of them professionally and creatively, and what areas they need to improve in order to be great. It is also a chance to build networks and meet life-long friends and mentors. I really think the best internship a person could hope to get is one where the studio throws them into the deep end and makes sure to provide them with the resources necessary to swim. Although there will be a tonne of splashing about and panicking, things will go awry, and mistakes will be made, the intern will learn first hand what they are made of, and how best to deal with every day production challenges. The issue here is that mistakes cost money… A lot of money. It can make the difference between profitability and taking losses on a project. The speed at which a person learns and adjust to their mistakes and how many additional resources are necessary to correct them is what may or may not cost the employer money.

    The expectation for someone to work for free is wrong. Period. However, one critical point seems to have gone overlooked. To have an intern (particularly one with no experience) costs studios money. It requires that other people take time away from their tasks to educate them. An intern’s work usually requires several revisions, and in most cases requires double handling from intermediate or senior staff for the work to be usable. If all an employer cared about was short term profitability, it is often better to hire a freelancer, or an experienced artist to do the job right the first time. Interns are in most cases receiving training in a practical setting beyond what they are paying for in school. There is of course the rare occasion that an intern can hit the ground running and do a great job from the get go! In cases like this, it is in the studio’s best interest to make them an offer, or risk alienating the tallent and loosing them to competition. An unpaid intern is an investment in time, money and resources that a studio will hope to re-coup once that individual shows that they are able to make the studio money. The flip side of this are the interns that come in with marginal skillsets, have time and money sunk into them, get a portfolio out of it and have no intention of sticking around. This is a relatively frequent ocurance, and there is no way for a prospective employer to protect themselves from it. It is a risk we all willingly take in the hopes that the efforst will pay off. There are unfortunately people in this world that will try to take advantage of others. They exist both as employers and employees. Weed out the dishonest people, don’t work with them, and don’t allow yourself to be bullied. BUT and this goes for both sides, take the time to examine the other’s point of view. A little empathy goes a long way.

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