Thousands of post-secondary students in Quebec are walking out of class this week seeking pay and workplace protections for internships undertaken as part of their studies.
Nearly 55,000 students are expected to take part in the action hitting junior colleges and universities across the province, according to a student committee co-ordinating the actions.
Some of the 32 student associations that voted to strike will be out all week, while others are striking for one, two or three days.
“This week, we are on strike to demand pay for all internships, at all levels of study,” said Amelie Poirier, an activist with the committee, known by its French acronym CUTE.
Poirier said unpaid internships are most common in fields of study where women form the majority.
“It’s everything that has to do with care, particularly social work, teaching, nursing, sexology, daycare,” she said.
In addition to pay, the strikers are asking that internship work be covered under Quebec’s labour standards law to ensure students are protected in the event of harassment, assault or an accident in the workplace.
Quebec Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said the new Coalition Avenir Québec government, elected Oct. 1, is already moving to address the issue of unpaid internships. He noted that when in opposition, the party favoured pay for internships in teaching and psychology.
Roberge said this week’s pressure tactics are premature.
“The students are kind of kicking down doors that are open,” he said.
“We are at work to assess the situation and then put things on the table that we will discuss with the student associations.”
But Sandrine Boisjoli, another student activist, said the co-ordinating committee is prepared to escalate its tactics beginning in January.
“If by the end of this week, we have not obtained pay for all internships, in all fields, an unlimited general strike will be declared in the winter of 2019,” she said. A general strike would require another vote by student associations.
A Montreal junior college, the CEGEP du Vieux-Montreal, was among the first to cancel all classes Monday after striking students formed a picket line outside the school.
Walkouts were planned in Gatineau, Rimouski, Sherbrooke and Quebec City as well as Montreal. Students are planning a day of protest Wednesday in a number of Quebec cities.