The governor of the Bank of Canada has caused a furor with his suggestion that unemployed youth consider working for free to gain experience.
“It’s sending a message to employers that young people are so desperate they will take unpaid work,” said Claire Seaborn, president of the Canadian Intern Association and an articling student at Torkin Manes LLP law firm in Toronto.
Stephen Poloz came under fire Wednesday after he said unemployed youth should take unpaid jobs to avoid the “scarring effect” of being out of work for too long.
The governor’s comments devalues young people’s contribution and ignores the fact only well-off youth can afford to work for free, Seaborn also said.
“I find it alarming. It shows he does not understand some very basic concepts about workplace law in Canada,” said Andrew Langille, an employment lawyer in Toronto.
In Ottawa, federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver said the government wants to see more paid work for unemployed young people. “What we are obviously looking for are more paying jobs for youth.”
Oliver suggested Poloz may have been referring to the “Catch-22” young people face when they “can’t get a job because they don’t have experience and they don’t have the experience because they can’t get a job.”
Poloz’s comments came amid ongoing concerns about the use by employers of unpaid interns and the relatively high rate of youth unemployment.
About 200,000 youth are under-employed or unemployed and many people know of at least one young adult who is living in their parents’ basement, Poloz said in a speech to a House of Commons committee on Monday about the legacy of the financial crisis.
During a news conference, Poloz was asked what he advises recent unemployed graduates do while waiting for the economy to create more jobs.
“I say, look, having something unpaid on your CV is very worth it because that’s the one thing you can do to counteract this scarring effect,” Poloz said. “Get some real life experience even though you’re discouraged, even if it’s for free. If your parents are letting you live in the basement, you might as well go out and do something for free to put the experience on your CV.”
On Tuesday when asked by Liberal MP Scott Brison about the problem of unpaid internships favouring well-off youth, Poloz acknowledged it could be an issue. But he said, “I still think that when there are those opportunities, one should grab them because it will reduce the scarring effect all other things equal.”
Andrew Cash, the NDP MP for Davenport, called Poloz’s comments “troubling” and “counter-productive.
If young people are in fact “holed up” in their parents’ basement, “it is due to the failure of the Conservative government to take the issue of youth unemployment and unpaid internships seriously,” Cash said.
The unemployment rate among young people, age 15 to 24, was 13.5 per cent in September, nearly twice that of the overall population, according to Statistics Canada’s latest figures.
On Twitter, several contributors suggested the bank governor give up his $435,000 a year salary if he thinks working for free is such a great idea.
“My fourth-year students were not happy about his comments to put it mildly,” said Mike Moffatt, who teaches economics at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.
Naguib Gouda, president of Career Edge, a Toronto-based social enterprise that connects job seekers with paid internships, said he became more vocal about unpaid jobs after reports about young people who died from overwork.
Andrew Ferguson, a student in Alberta interning at a radio station, died in 2011 while driving home after a 16-hour day.
Earlier this year, the Ontario government cracked down on the practice at several Toronto-based magazines. Bell Mobility scrapped a contentious program — at least temporarily — that recruits hundreds of interns each year to work for free.
- With files from Star wire services, staff