“La gratuité c’est ben trop cher, on mérite salaire!” Students Demonstrate for Full Recognition of Their Work
Tiohtià:ke (Montreal, unceded Mohawk territory), November 2, 2016 – At the call of UQAM’s Comité unitaire sur le travail étudiant (CUTE), a hundred students took part in a rally this afternoon in front of the Montreal office of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity to demand full recognition of student work, which means suitable conditions and a salary for studying.
For several years, students in teaching programs have been asking to be paid for the full responsibility of classes during their fourth and final internship. This fall, doctoral students in psychology are in internship strike, demanding a financial compensation for their work. This is a first for the student movement; it's time to follow suit and to demand not only compensation for all courses in all school programs, but also recognition of the intellectual work involved in postsecondary education. We demand that studying as well as internships be generally subjected to Quebec’s Act respecting labour standards, particularly with respect to the minimum wage.
"There has been much talk of a $15 minimum wage recently, but the main culprit for student precarity is that our main occupation is almost never recognized as work," says Thierry Beauvais-Gentile, a student in Web integration at Collège de Maisonneuve and future intern. "Our work is not recognized in large part in order to facilitate our ongoing use by companies as cheap labour. The best way to fight for an increase in minimum wage is to reduce this supply of cheap labour, by struggling in a united front for a student salary as well as for the rights of migrant workers."
At the rally, top banners proclaimed in French "Exploitation isn’t a vocation" and "We should be paid to study". Before the crowd, Geneviève Vaillancourt, a sociopolitical employee at UQAM’s Comité de soutien aux parents étudiants and CUTE-UQAM activist, grieves the fate of mothers in school: "With dependent children, the sum of unpaid hours of work at home and at school makes it almost impossible for parenting students to also have waged jobs that would allow them a semblance of financial independence. This increases the likelihood of having to place themselves under the control of their own parents or spouse." The recognition of interns’ work through a wage would also allow those who currently give their time for free to various employers to exert more power in cases of sexual abuse, harassment and other kinds of abuse too frequently experienced as part of their training.
Valérie Simard, a teaching student currently in internship and involved in the CUTE-UQAM, adds that "unpaid internships are common in jobs traditionally and predominantly occupied by women. It is well known that to be teachers, nurses, social workers, midwives and specialist and early-childhood educators, to name a few, you must have the vocation and a natural propensity to sacrifice… We want no more of such precarious conditions, supposedly normal for women, which are the equivalent of having to pay for working." According to the Canadian Intern Association, there are approximately 200,000 credited but unpaid internships each year in Canada, and some 300,000 internships after graduation, a gigantic amount of free labour for Canadian companies and organizations.
The new Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (CUTE) are autonomous groups created in various postsecondary institutions in order to get proper recognition for student work. They recommend, among other things, internship strikes as a novel means of action for the student movement. CUTE mobilization will continue throughout the year, including by strengthening their presence on various campuses and via a demonstration at the Rendez-vous national sur la main-d’oeuvre planned by the Couillard government for the winter of 2017.
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