Monday 11 March 2013

WIFT, Shaw, and Underemployment.

Last week, I fought back against what I see, as the chronic abuse of the young worker in Canada today...Unpaid Interning and underemployment. If you didn't see it, I went after multi-billion dollar company, Pattison, and you can read about it here.

I went after Pattison after they posted a "job" (albeit posted as "internship"...but still illegal) on the Women in Film and Television's forum for members. My reasoned, but critical, responses were removed from the board. The "job" posting was left untouched. At least 1 other message of support for my position was also removed. I received a sizable "cease and desist" email, acknowledging my position, and promising an official statement on the matter that would be sent out Friday...

Well, it's Monday. I haven't seen a damn thing except for WIFT desperately prostrating themselves before Pattison for forgiveness... NEWSFLASH WIFT: you are an organization that exists SOLELY for the members, and you are funded by our dues. If you can't even be bothered to stand up for our best interests (not working for below min wage in illegal positions), the very least you could do is not censor dissent, especially when it has the law on it's side.

Below is the full text of the email that was sent to me by WIFT. I have removed the name of the individual who sent it, to preserve her privacy:

Hello Claire,
I hope you’re well. I wanted to touch base with you regarding your posts on the Member Zone message board today. I want to let you know that I respect and appreciate your position on the issue of unpaid internships. I agree that our generation has faced some unique challenges when entering the workforce due to the state of our economy. People in artistic industries seem to be especially vulnerable to internships that do not adequately compensate them for the work being performed, and many people – myself included – have periodically found ourselves in situations where we have been asked to work outside the strictures of our jobs without being remunerated accordingly. So I appreciate that you have made an effort to become well informed on this issue and that you have attempted to encourage an open dialogue about it. I am concerned, however, about how that played out in this particular situation. At WIFT-T, we have been strongly encouraging our members to post job information on our message boards in an attempt to help combat the real problem of unemployment that permeates our industry. As you may or may not know, we have a large percentage of student members in our overall membership base who might have been delighted to know about this opportunity! Though I agree it is in everyone’s best interest to think critically and carefully about the job environments they enter, and I, like you, always want to encourage an open dialogue, I am concerned that these posts ask one person to be accountable for the validity and operational practices of her entire organization. The net result of this is that Sharon has been put in a very difficult position, one that challenges her integrity in front of industry professionals and peers what is intended to be a professional networking environment and, more importantly, a secure and safe forum for WIFT-T members. While I want to encourage further dialogue about this issue, I am going to delete these posts for the time being and put in a placeholder indicating that WIFT-T will issue a formal statement on the matter. I appreciate your understanding, and am open to discuss this with you by email or telephone at 416-322-3430 ext. 224. Though I cannot ask you to refrain discussing this further on your personal blog or on Facebook, I would ask that for the time being you refrain from posting about this matter any further on WIFT-T Member Zone.  
Thanks again, Claire, and I will be in touch soon.

Well, WIFT, you may have misplayed this terribly... the winds of change are starting to blow, and not in favour of companies like Pattison...I came across this gem on CBC News this morning:

The article is here, and details what has become the norm in the media work for free for months or years as an "intern", and when they DO deign to hire you, they hire you as an "independent contractor" without job security, benefits, holiday pay, OR the need for severance if they fire you.


This is not just me, sitting and fabricating on my keyboard...this is illegal based on the current laws of employment and taxation in Canada. Check this out if you don't believe me! A handy summary is below:

Do you work in their office, with their tools, on their schedule? YOU ARE AN EMPLOYEE.

Do you have a boss? Who tells you what to do? Who has superiority over your activities? Who dictates your rate and pay schedule? YOU ARE AN EMPLOYEE.

Well, so what? Right? Who cares? "If you don't like the way someone does business, you should just leave!" Right?


The biggest hurdle in this battle against unpaid internships and underemployment is NOT getting the laws passed, they already exist! It's apathy and laziness. Why should we care if corporations abuse us, cheat on their taxes, drive our medians incomes into the poverty range, and download employer-responsibilities onto the shoulders of the worker?

WELL, IT SEEMS OBVIOUS...but if it isn't, think on this:

...if no-one can afford to buy consumer goods, there will be no demand for them. If there is no demand for them, the people who make them will be laid off. If people are laid off, they have less money for consumer goods. If no-one can afford to buy consumer goods, there will be no demand for them. If there is no demand for them...

Do you see where this is going? Kind of in a circular fashion? Yea. Not good. It's a race to the bottom that none of us really want to be a part of.

Surely the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is there to fix all this, wot wot?

Not quite...

Stephen Harper will spend the time and resources to randomly check 1200 EI receivers, but not to go after multi-million dollar corporations that are cheating on their taxes openly!

But that's good, right? It's saving us money, right?

hurr durr, trickle-down economics, hurr durr!

Ahem, some facts:

  • The average after-tax  income for a non-elderly single Canada is: $27,500/yr.
  • The average weekly earnings for employee-status Canadians in 2012 was: $885.36
  • EI is calculated as: 55% of your average weekly earnings from the previous year, up to a max of $501/week. source
  • The maximum period you can claim EI is 52 weeks. source

...What does all that mean? 

It means that the AVERAGE Canadian on EI would be receiving $442.68/week, and that, over 52 weeks would amount to a total of: $23,019.36.

If we multiply that by the 1200 random people Stephen Harper was hoping to catch, we can hypothesize that he MIGHT have saved the taxpayer a grand total of: $32,423, 232...a little under $1 per Canadian...

NOW, let us consider the following facts:
  • Shaw is one of the country’s largest telecommunications companies, with several divisions across the country and 12,500 employees, as of 2011. The company reported net revenue of $250 million in one quarter last fall. source
  • There is money to be made in exploiting the worker and cheating on CPP and EI source-deductions, and if labour is 50% of the operating costs of a business...that's a LOT of money...source
  • Shaw posted a revenue of 4.74 billion in 2011
  • Oh, and Shaw's top 5 executives earned a combined 30.6 million in salary, bonuses, etc in 2012.
...So what does THAT mean?

It means that if we assume that even 10% of Shaw's 12,500 employees are under this "contractor" position, and they are earning an average Canadian yearly salary of $27,500:

  • The 1250 employees owe the government: $1357.92 each for CPP, and $503.25 each for EI, source
  • The employee owes 1.4 times the EI amount that each employee pays, approx. $704.55/employee.

Math means...wat?

The math would follow like this:

1250 employees x 704.55 in EI contributions from Shaw = 880,687.50 in missing taxes per year, plus CPP contribution, plus penalties in back taxes...

But...corporations are our friends, right? RIGHT?!!!

...And this doesn't even take into account the stresses that are brought onto the economy by not supplying people with health benefits. Oh, you need glasses? Your income goes down. Oh you caught strep throat and you need antibiotics? Your income goes down. Oh, you got cancer and you need to go on EI? 


Fuck. That. Shit.

So why are we so apathetic? Why aren't we fighting back? Because these companies who use illegal unpaid interns, or who string "independent contractors" along under the guise of future employment are the Traffickers of Hope.

They prey upon the desperate, the young, the naive, and they lie through their smiles and promise "future opportunities", "experience", and would swear on their mothers' graves that it is "a necessity in these uncertain economic times"... well, it's bullshit.

The 1930s were bad economic times:

These are just selfish times, where the rich grow richer on the backs of the rapidly disappearing middle class. Times are such that where Roosevelt created the New Deal...Stephen Harper is attacking Canadians collecting Employment Insurance THAT THEY HAVE ALREADY PAID INTO.

STEPHEN HARPER, when you create an economy and political ring where 35 BILLION DOLLARS can be freely spent on fighter jets that DON'T WORK, and we DON'T NEED, there is no possible way you can justify going door-to-door (literally) trying to catch an imagined 1200 Employment Insurance fraudsters. You cannot. It's bullshit.

SHAW COMMUNICATIONS, when you post an EBITDA of $2 Billion you cannot justify calling employees "independent contractors" and cheat on your taxes. It's illegal, and you are damaging this country and its economy by doing so. If you have $30.6 Million to divide up between 5 assholes, you can pay your employees properly AND legally. You selfish dickbags.

WIFT, shame on you for not having the guts or the character to stand up to corporate bullies and defend the laws of Canada, much less the rights of your members.

CANADA, stop being so fucking apathetic. Stop letting corporations give each other hand-jobs with YOUR money! Corporate tax breaks don't help you, they allow the top five executives at companies like Shaw Communications to piss on their employees and avoid putting money back into the economy, both by denying their "employees" a living wage, and by skirting their taxes.

It won't be easy to take back our right to be paid...It takes guts to stand up. It takes energy and drive to fight back. It takes courage to stand alone and say "No, this isn't right." ...So let's do it together.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite quotes:

"The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

-  Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mockingbird


  1. There are some flaws in your posting. I`m not defending the practice by these behemoths like Pattison, just pointing out the error and how they get around it. The biggest is the presumption that unpaid intern-ships are illegal. All of the determinations you use to see if a person is an employee or not is in reference to a `payer`. There is no `payer`in a intern-ship, thus all of these would be ignored by any court if it was challenged.

    The second thing I noticed was that you put a dollar figure on the 1200 potential EI claims that would be audited. This is an audit sample. It would be used to gauge further investigation in the area. The initial dollar claims are irrelevant. The percentage of fraudulent claims is what they care about.

    They will attack you, and they certainly have the resources to do it, so be sure to be accurate and make no false claims.

  2. That is true, sadly the law can be ignored do to the "payer" even though it can be argued they are following the letter of the law, they are certainly not following the spirit of the law.

    It just draws even further attention to how badly corporations will abuse the laws and people of a country until the government steps in and stops them...sad.