Anokhi Media, Internships, and the Employment Standards Act

Today I’m calling bullshit on Anokhi Media and internships in general.

Internship. It’s a dirty word that didn’t really cross my radar until 2005, a year or so after I arrived in Canada. No such thing really exists in the UK, or at least when I lived there it wasn’t rampant in the labour market. Now in Canada, internships can last up to an entire year and be unpaid.

So what is an internship? According to the Ontario government, an internship is basically unpaid, on-the-job training, and is clearly defined by the Ontario Employment Standards Act.

Here’s what you need to know: generally, if you perform work for another person or a company or other organization and you are not in business for yourself, you would be considered to be an employee, and therefore entitled to ESA rights such as the minimum wage. There are some exceptions, but they are very limited, and the fact that you are called an intern is not relevant.

One such circumstance where a person can work as an intern for no pay concerns a person receiving training, but it has very restrictive conditions. If an employer provides an intern with training in skills that are used by the employer’s employees, the intern will generally also be considered to be an employee for purposes of the ESA unless all of the conditions below are met:

  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern. You receive some benefit from the training, such as new knowledge or skills.
  3. The employer derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the intern while he or she is being trained.
  4. Your training doesn’t take someone else’s job.
  5. Your employer isn’t promising you a job at the end of your training.
  6. You have been told that you will not be paid for your time.

So there you have it. It doesn’t matter whether they are giving you some training, or whether they have told you it is unpaid, or whether this is a “trial” period before a paid job. It’s technically illegal unless it meets all six of the above criteria, you’re in full-time education, or in one of the exempt professions (such as, ironically, law).

According to David Doorey, professor of employment law at York University:

You won’t find the word ‘intern’ in our employment laws at all. It’s an industry term. There seems to be a widely held belief that an employer avoids our basic employment law rules simply by labelling someone an intern. That’s wrong.

Now whether many interns will do anything about this remains to be seen, as people are desperately trying to find employment and some are willing to work for free, given the dangling of a job at the end of the internship. Why is this a problem? Well, because the Ontario labour market is rife with illegal internships and people are being exploited.

According to Statistics Canada, unemployment in Ontario for those younger than 24 is 16.5 per cent. That’s more than double the rate of 6.3 per cent for those above 24.

Toronto lawyer and internship critic Andrew Langille has written a great piece about internships in Ontario on his blog:

We’re seeing the erosion of the entry-level position and paid employees being replaced with unpaid interns. Unpaid internships have a direct impact on the economy through contributing to youth unemployment, driving down wages, slowing economic growth, and allowing employers to replace paid employees with unpaid, vulnerable young workers or recent immigrants.

Welcome to North America people, where companies (like Anokhi Media) exploit vulnerable young people and immigrants. If you’re young and an immigrant, I really don’t fancy your chances… All the more reason to learn your rights under Canadian law.

Employment Standards Act

All this is relevant because most “interns” don’t even qualify to be interns, and that then technically makes them employees. As an employee, you now have rights, and as such are entitled to benefits under the Ontario Employment Standards Act, including some that are particularly relevant for Ontario’s black-market army of  “interns” – protection from excessive overtime (48hr/week maximum) and the right to be paid a minimum wage ($10.25/hr).

Andrew Langille has the following to say about the ESA:

A few points need to be made about the ESA. This is a socially protective piece of law which was designed to give workers minimum rights in the workplace. The ESA contains two provisions critical to protecting interns: first, there’s a prohibition on employers and employees from contracting out from the minimum provisions contained in the Act – this means that you can’t undertake “work” for free under normal circumstances; second, there’s a provision setting out that employees need to be paid an hourly minimum wage.

The dual legal narrative related to unpaid internships is one of wage theft, employers not paying wages to young workers, and of misclassification, the concept that employers engage in a form of “mischief” to convince an employee that they aren’t entitled to the hourly minimum wage.

Do you qualify for protection under the ESA with your internship? Go and find out.

Anokhi Media

You may be wondering why I am writing about this. Quite simply, because I dislike companies taking advantage of people, and because one of my friends up until recently worked as an unpaid intern for Anokhi Media.

Raj Girn
Raj Girn

Anokhi is some Toronto-based media company focused on the South Asian lifestyle and entertainment niche, and was founded by entrepreneur Raj Girn.

Despite Girn personally promising my friend a specific paid job at the end of the internship – in person and in writing before the internship started – Anokhi Media pulled a bait and switch by yanking that job offer in the afternoon on the very last day of the unpaid internship and substituting it with an inferior job offer. Real nice. Girn herself didn’t have the balls to communicate the news personally, despite exploiting the “intern” between 7 and 16 hours per day, and instead got someone else to deliver the bad news.

Unhappy by Anokhi’s unethical treatment of her, my friend requested to be compensated for the time she had spent working at Anokhi Media, as per her rights under the Employment Standards Act. Unsurprisingly, after being reminded that the Employment Standards Act applies to all companies and that hers is not above the law, Girn referred the case to the company lawyer. The saga continues.

Update: My friend successfully recovered all money owed to her after filing a complaint with the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

Why 30 is not the new 20

Meg Jay, an American clinical psychologist, tells us in a very interesting TED talk that, contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade. In other words, 30 is not the new 20. I couldn’t agree more.

Her three main pieces of advice:

  1. Get some identity capital – do something that is a step in the right direction towards where you want to go, something that adds value to who you are and who you might want to be next. You don’t need to know what exactly you want to do, but don’t just do nothing. Waiting tables while you think is a waste of time.
  2. Use your weak ties – build your network, meet new people, and leverage the people who you know through other people, rather than relying purely on your inner circle.
  3. Pick your family – the time to start picking, or at least start thinking about what you really want. You should be consciously choosing who and what you really want, rather than making something work or killing time with who happens to be choosing you.

At the end of the talk, Meg used a plane analogy to reiterate what I have believed for a long time  – it’s more about moving in the right direction, rather than having everything exactly figured out. A slight change in course is most definitely worth doing and can make a huge difference further down the road. In other words, when you know what you really want to do, stop procrastinating about your life like one 20-something I had this conversation with last year, and instead change something small (and stick with it) to change the direction of your whole life, one step at a time.

Mill St. Brew Hall biggest pub in TO?

I am moving down to the Distillery District very soon and am very excited. My condo building is attached to the Mill St. Brew Pub, which is pretty well known and respected in Toronto. Interestingly, the Mill St. Brewery have expanded into the ground floor of the Condo with a new bar – the Mill St. Beer Hall.

From outside, it looks pretty small, kind of sports bar-esque: TV’s above the bar, high bar tables, etc. We followed the hostess inside and then turned the corner and were blown away. It literally is a beer hall – the largest pub I have ever seen. That’s also aside from the Brew Pub, which is connected via a stone-paved hallway! Anyway, we walked and walked and eventually got to our table. I would estimate it is around 4 times the size of the Brew Pub next door, and actually stretches all the way under the condo building so I’m wondering if there is a private entrance for residents…

The beer menu is pretty large and has more selection than the pub next door if memory serves me correctly. There must be at least 20 types of beer on the menu. We ordered some beer and as we were sitting there next to the window taking it in, we noticed the under-construction patio. This thing stretches the entire length of the beer hall and you can’t see it from the front at all. Upon querying our server, a cool British dude called Rob from West Sussex, we were informed it should have a 150-person capacity and it was opening at the end of May (around this area everything is under construction).

Aside from that, the beer hall has been open for 3 weeks and was a hive of activity, I would say 70% full, and there was a loud buzz. They still have some things to iron out though – the menu leaves something to be desired, and the quality the food was sub par. We ordered a Bacon Jam appetizer and sent it back as it was so drastically different from what we expected from the menu and didn’t even taste good – a melted pot of jam and cheese with 4 slices of french bread for $14. Uhm no. The oven flatbread with Chorizo sausage, mozzarella and salsa with guacamole crème fraîche was passable – but again, toppings were sparse, it was very “bready” and over-priced at $16. The flatbread things at 3 Brewers on Yonge St are way better.

The overall verdict was the food was way better at the Brew Pub, but if you’re interested TheBuzzToronto has posted their menu and some pics. I can’t imagine what this place is going to be like in the summer when the patio is open and drinking season is in full swing – let’s hope they get their kitchen in order before then.

Going to be a crazy summer living above a ginormous beer hall…