A bill isn’t enough, a strike will be necessary

[Press release by the Montreal Coalition for Paid Internships. Translation by Jonathan Turcotte-Summers.]

Tiohtià:ke (Montreal, unceded Mohawk territory), February 19, 2019 — Already more than 7,500 [now 30,000] students have adopted a strike mandate of at least one week this winter. Many student associations will also hold general assemblies soon in order to increase the pressure on the government, which drags its feet in formulating a serious proposal. Last fall, a clear ultimatum was issued to the Legault government by more than 30 student associations while nearly 60,000 students were on strike in several regions of Quebec.

Instead of joining the movement, the Quebec College Student Federation (Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec, or FECQ) and the Quebec Student Union (Union étudiante du Québec, or UEQ) were eager to lead discussions with the government behind closed doors. However, none of the associations they represent participated in the walkout. “The federations launch their campaign while the movement has been in full swing for nearly three years, and so take advantage of the momentum created by a mobilization to which they didn’t contribute!” alleges Marianne Gagnon, nursing intern and activist with the Student Work Unitary Committee (Comité unitaire sur le travail étudiant, or CUTE) at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal.

The bill tabled by the provincial organizations also doesn’t correspond with the demands of interns who are fighting to improve their working conditions. It presents a compensation measure in which the details are left to the government, allowing it to categorize internships in order to justify some interns remaining unpaid. “They continue to talk about compensating interns, but what we’re calling for is a wage for the work done. It’s all the more shocking when we know that unpaid internships are found in fields where women form the majority,” highlights Évelyne Gauvin, education intern and activist with the CUTE at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM).

From the first day students walked out in November, education minister Roberge asked to be given time to consider a supposedly complex file, admitting at the same time that neither the government nor the school administrations had mastered the question of the management of internships. “On the one hand, they admit that there’s serious confusion about the definition of internships, and on the other, they claim that the tasks performed during some of them don’t represent real work,” protests Mathilde Laforge, social work intern and activist with the Interns Committee (Comité des stagiaires) at UQAM.

Despite this admission, the internships are kept in place and the distress of interns continues. “Why not put internships on hold?” she adds. In reality, the workload relegated to the intern depends much more on the workplace than on its official definition. The complexity of the file, according to her, is due to the stubbornness of the government in excluding certain internships. All interns being granted a wage means they are acknowledged at the same time to have the rights and conditions afforded by the law on labour standards: paid work allows access to the protections of the law.

It doesn’t matter what concerted efforts the provincial federations and the government make to divide and halt the movement: interns will walk out this winter if the government doesn’t take the necessary measures to ensure a full wage and suitable working conditions for the totality of students in internship positions, at all stages of schooling.

Photo: Ludovic Théberge / Le Devoir