With OSAP, students have six months after graduation before they have to start paying back their loans, but those who qualify can now extend that period for an additional six months, resulting in a one year grace period.Earlier this year, the plan developed by the Ontario Young Liberals Association went into effect. The extension is available for graduates who accept either paid or unpaid positions with a not-for-profit before the normal six month OSAP grace period has ended. To qualify, graduates must be working a minimum of 30 hours a week with a not-forprofit and must apply for the extension before the normal grace period has ended. Applications for the extension can be found on the OSAP website.
The primary goal behind this new plan is to funnel graduates into the not-for-profit sector. Charities, advocacy groups and other not-for-profits typically pay much lower wages than companies in the public and private sectors, and the extension on the OSAP grace period is an incentive for students to choose not-for-profit work. Hospitals, schools and government agencies are excluded in this plan as to what qualifies as a not-for-profit. Any organization that is registered with the Canada Revenue Agency as a charity or is incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation qualifies.
In Peterborough, the Centre for Community Based Education is a good resource for finding work in the not-forprofit sector. The center itself is a charitable organization and has several programs designed to place students with local organizations. Students working with not-for-profits have the benefit of becoming familiar with this employment sector and make valuable employment connections that can be maintained post-graduation. Ontario Worksis another resource and also provides financial assistance until a job is secured.
While the Liberal Party does not directly address the issue of unpaid and low-paying internships in the outline for the plan, companies offering internships will undoubtedly be affected. The logic follows that if a student is given a choice between an internship with a company that does not qualify the student for an OSAP grace period extension and a not-for-profit organization that does, the student will choose the not-for-profit. This brings up the ethics of companies using unpaid and low-paying internships in the first place. Is it ethical to use an unpaid intern while a CEO at the same company is making a six-figure salary? With not-for-profits, the income gap between employees is typically small, and the OSAP grace period extension indirectly acknowledges this.
Many graduates don’t even realize that they may be exploited by accepting internships. There is no government agency, or any agency for that matter, policing the use of internships. Statistics Canada does not collect data on internships. Section 1 of the Employment Standards Act outlines the definition of what constitutes an employee, with six exceptions that need to be met in order to instead classify a person as a trainee (intern). If a company does not meet the criteria outlined in the exceptions, then the trainee is in fact an employee and is entitled to a minimum wage.
The problem is that most companies are getting away with violating the criteria. Interns who are acting like personal assistants, for example, should be classified as employees. If you’re making coffee for everyone at the office, you’re not an intern. An unpaid receptionist internship? Not an internship.
In a country where people fought hard to secure a minimum wage, the increase of unpaid internships is beginning to raise some eyebrows. Unpaid internships are replacing entry level jobs and are leaving graduates with the option of either taking out more loans or working as an unskilled labourer. Debates over the legality and ethics of unpaid internships have erupted on social media sites, on news broadcasting stations and in newspapers and magazines.
The OSAP extension to graduates who seek paid or unpaid work in the not-for-profit sector will hopefully balance out some of this injustice. This is not to say that not-for-profits don’t ever violate the ESA criteria for trainees, but typically the work involved with not-for-profits lends itself to a more vocational nature. If you suspect that your internship doesn’t meet the ESA standards, you can call the ESA toll-free at 1-800-531-5551.