Internship legislation: Battles on two fronts

[Original article by Zacharie Routhier in Quartier Libre, the independent student newspaper of Université de Montréal. Translation by Jonathan Turcotte-Summers.]

During his visit to the convention of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) [1], in which participated the Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ) [2], the Minister of Education and Higher Learning, Jean-François Roberge, declared Saturday that he is open to the idea of a legal framework for internships. The Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (CUTEs) [3], who were not present for the announcement, say they don’t feel represented by the two provincial associations.

“It’s because [Roberge] is feeling the heat. Let’s continue to defend the unlimited general strike in our general assemblies and leave no one behind. We’ll have it, the remuneration of all internships.” This was the reaction of the CUTEs, who responded to the minister’s announcement via their Facebook page.

According to the activists of the unitary committees, the UEQ and the FECQ have no power over the mobilized interns. “The minister … is careful to have his positions, still just as vague, endorsed in backdoor meetings, by two provincial organizations that are not involved in the strike movement,” the declaration continues.

Who represents the interns?

Among the university associations that went on strike in the fall, only those of Université de Montréal are members of the UEQ (through their affiliation to FAÉCUM) [4]. They have nonetheless organized themselves outside of the provincial association.

Following the announcement by the minister Roberge, the Regroupement des étudiantes et étudiants de sociologie de l’UdeM (RÉÉSUM) [5], which was part of the strike movement, took to its Facebook page to denounce the UEQ’s “co-optation of the struggles of activists to gain political capital,” affirming that the Union doesn’t represent them.

However, the issue of a legal framework for internships appears in the UEQ’s 2018–2019 action plan. Point 8 resolves “that the UEQ develop its position on the question of the financial compensation of obligatory internships.”

Through an open door

“We’re moving forward, it’s not so that in the end, we say that everything was done properly,” said the minister Roberge exiting his meeting with the two provincial student associations. “There will be, in the end, in the scenarios, recognitions, financial compensations. The nature is to be determined.” This announcement echoes his statements in mid-November, when nearly 60,000 students went on strike for a period ranging from one day to a week. “I invite students to not ram through open doors,” he declared.

The announcement is supported by the UEQ and the FECQ, for whom the initiation of a study on the conditions of internships was an electoral demand. But they remain wary. “It isn’t an end in itself,” said the president of the UEQ, Guillaume Lecorps. “There will need to be convincing results put forward, to both pay interns and give them minimal protections that are offered to workers.”

The two provincial associations are expecting gains in the next budget. “This study begins with the obligation of results,” affirmed the president of the FECQ, Fred-William Mireault, by means of a press release. “The student community will judge it according to the measures that are taken at the end of this exercise.”

The UEQ collecting data

Quartier Libre interviewed the president of the UEQ, Guillaume Lecorps, a few days before the announcement by the minister Roberge. “Currently, the data are really minimal to know how to pay internships,” he explained.

The association’s objective is to deepen its research to be able to present the government with concrete proposals and seek gains piece by piece. “The goal is to create a domino effect, open a breach,” added Guillaume. “There isn’t a single wall-to-wall measure that helps all interns.” These measures could take several forms, both in financial terms and in terms of the legal protection of interns.

This line of argument differs from that of the CUTEs, who seek to obtain the remuneration of all internships. The president of the UEQ believes however that, at the end of the day, all the student actors involved are after the same thing: putting money in the pockets of interns.

Update on the general strike

For the CUTEs, an unlimited general strike is still on the agenda. Two associations have already voted in favor and will go on strike if a minimum of 20,000 students is attained. Other general assemblies are expected to vote on the strike throughout the province in the beginning of February.

Last September, Quartier Libre introduced the CUTEs’ demands.

[1] Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec (FECQ) is the College Student Federation of Quebec

[2] Union étudiante du Québec (UEQ) is the Quebec Student Union

[3] Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (CUTEs) are the Student Work Unitary Committees (SWUCs)

[4] Fédération des associations étudiantes du campus de l’Université de Montréal (FAÉCUM) is the Federation of Student Associations of the Campus of Université de Montréal

[5] Regroupement des étudiantes et étudiants de sociologie de l’UdeM (RÉÉSUM) is the Alliance of Sociology Students at Université de Montréal

Photo: Zacharie Routhier