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A new fundraising initiative is asking U of T law students to donate a day of their wages to help cover the cost of unpaid internships

April 21st, 2015 Posted in Education

The University of Toronto’s Students’ Law Society (SLS) is planning to launch a new fundraising campaign in the spring to provide grants for first- and second-year students performing “unpaid, public interest work over the summer.”

In the quest to tackle unpaid internships, aspiring lawyers at the University of Toronto are being presented with a new strategy involving deep pockets and a collegial spirit.

The Spring Pledge Drive, to be launched in March by the Students’ Law Society with faculty approval, is asking students who land paid summer jobs to donate one day of their wages to help subsidize those in unpaid roles.

But the #OneDayofPay campaign has some wondering why debt-strapped youth are funding salaries that should rightfully be paid by employers.

“It’s really the wrong target in my opinion,” said Ella Henry, a third year law student at the school. “They’re sort of suggesting that the people who should fix the problem of unpaid work are students rather than employers that are getting people to work for free and getting the benefit of that work.”

In an e-mail circulated earlier this month, the Students’ Law Society says funds raised through the pledge drive will provide grants of $1,000 and $2000 to first and second year students to support “unpaid, public interest work over the summer.”

Nathalie Lum-Tai, the Society’s president, told the Star the idea was inspired by a similar project at the University of California, Berkeley. Although the Faculty of Law and SLS both provide fellowships for students to pursue unpaid social justice work, Lum-Tai said the programs were severely oversubscribed.

“We just hope that our peers will be able to pursue work that they’re passionate about,” she said.

But while they agree with the sentiment, critics worry the campaign will do little to address will a worrying increase in unpaid student jobs in the legal sector – even as tuition fees and debt loads soar.

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