Call it the Great Canadian Intern Raid of 2014. Following a mass sweep of so-called glamor businesses in Ontario, Canada, labor officials found internship programs at 42 percent of the companies they examined did not comply with the law. The first-of-its-kind inspection was carried out last spring by the Ontario Ministry of Labor. It included 56 businesses in advertising, computer design, public relations, information consulting and other industries. Of the businesses inspected, 37 were cited for noncompliance and ordered to pony up a combined $48,543 in back pay.  

Bruce Skeaff, a spokesman for the ministry, told International Business Times Tuesday the effort was a response to a growing awareness surrounding the exploitation of interns. “It has become such a topic that it merited doing a concentrated blitz,” he said.

Skeaff said the Ontario Ministry of Labor carries out inspections in various industries throughout the year, but this was the first one that focused specifically on intern labor. He said blitzes of this kind are done independently of investigations conducted in response to complaints.

“It’s a proactive thing,” he said. “We said we’re going to take a set of inspectors and make them dedicated to going out and doing this.”  

The intern inspection was carried out from April 1 to June 15, and a summary of the results was posted Tuesday to the ministry’s website. The most common monetary violations were for not providing minimum wage, vacation pay and public holiday pay, while the most common nonmonetary violations were related to wage statements, record keeping and hours of work. Of the 56 businesses, only 13 had intern programs that labor officials considered legally exempt from wage laws.

It’s not the first time this year Canadian businesses have taken heat for their internship programs. On the national level, a number of high-profile magazines were found to have violated wage laws in April. As the Star reported at the time, at least two of those magazines have since canceled their internship programs.   

As in the United States, the Canadian government does not keep records on internships, and exactly what defines an “intern” is subject to interpretation. Labor officials in both countries have attempted to address the legal ambiguity with similar “six-factor tests,” which stipulate, among other things, that internships must be similar to vocational training and must benefit the intern, not the employer. Employers offering internships that violate these rules can be ordered to pay wages, overtime and damages.

In both countries, debates over unpaid internships have escalated in recent years as social and economic factors have coalesced to force younger workers to reconsider the value of working for free. Skeaff said first became aware of the growing intern movement about four years ago, when people would discuss it on social media. He said the ministry has since focused its efforts on educating young workers about their rights.

“We’ve always told people and made sure that the public is aware that if they think they’re not being treated properly -- or that they’re being paid improperly -- that they can come to us and file a claim and we’ll investigate,” he said.

Read the full results of the intern blitz here.