By The All Work Is Work Campaign Team

arleton students in the Social Work Department, and other departments such as Global and International Studies, are expected to undertake unpaid placements in the field in order to graduate and/or gain accreditation. Unpaid placements place undue burdens on marginalized students and unevenly distribute stress on future social workers and other professional workers.

The All Work is Work campaign, developed and ran by Carleton students through OPIRG-Carleton, puts a spotlight on this devaluation of student labour. There is nothing inevitable or natural about student placements going unpaid. Several other departments at Carleton offer paid placements, such as psychology and computer science.

“I find it incredibly unfair that placements are mandatory yet we are not allowed to be compensated for them”

Nor do accreditation standards mandate unpaid placements as such. In the case of social work placements, this is a decision made by Carleton.

Marie-Christine Bois, the Accreditation Coordinator for CASWE (the Canadian Association of Social Work Education) confirmed that CASWE does not mandate that placements are either paid or unpaid — just that 700 field hours are required for graduation. Bois further explained that this decision is up to each individual school of social work, but as long as educational goals are achieved, the placement will meet accreditation standards.

The All Work is Work also focuses on inequitable placement and labour policies that exploit students rights and that directly risk infringing on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

The CASWE handbook for the Standards of Accreditation claims to support these legal rights  by stating that their standards “encourage and support diversity and social justice in all aspects/domains of social work programs. Diversity throughout this document refers to a range of characteristics including, but not limited to: age, colour, culture, disability/non-disability status, ethnic or linguistic origin, gender, health status, heritage, immigration status, geographic origin, race, religious and spiritual beliefs, political orientation, gender and sexual identities, and socioeconomic status.”

However, departmental policies infringe on students’ rights surrounding accommodations. The Leveller obtained an internal department document explaining that future social work students will be required to sign a document stating certain considerations and scenarios will not receive accommodation by the program. For example, there would be no additional supports during a pregnancy or to help navigate a placement while being a sexual assault survivor.

Instead, students are expected to simply deal with these matters privately and should not expect supports from the program. In the document, the School of Social Work states that the nature of social work itself, as it is case-work based, will inevitably lead us to deal with these challenges in the workplace and, as such, there will be no accommodation for students.

The claim that supports and accommodations are contradictory to social work practice itself entirely contradicts CASWE’s Standard (3.2.17) which states that field placements should accept students “ without discrimination as defined by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial human rights legislation; the field placement/setting is free of discriminatory practices both in personnel practices and in delivery of services.”

As such, the idea that placement spaces for student-workers are somehow void where the Charter, AODA, and other rights and accommodations-based legislation does not apply is nonsensical. Under the Human Rights Code, all organizations already have a duty to accommodate persons with disabilities, which is defined in legislation as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities.”

Not providing an accommodation for a sexual assault survivor directly contradicts this legislation, due to the short and long-term mental health effects of sexual assault such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety, for example.

Furthermore, the Ontario Human Rights Code protects against discrimination on the basis of family status. It defines family status in such a way that parents are protected from being discriminated against because they have children, which includes protections for those who are pregnant.

CASWE does not define family status as a characteristic that remains free of discrimination or recognize that family obligations often create challenges for student parents. The aforementioned documents that students will be required to sign again directly contradicts legislation that protects pregnancy under family status.

A single mom social work student who is supporting her children has to partake in an unpaid placement under existing regulations. This means that she is expected to pay full tuition to the corresponding university while doing so. She is therefore more likely to face financial insecurities as she is required to exchange the potential for paid work to pay tuition and work for free.

An added barrier is created when student parents have to balance responsibilities of parenthood and placement — such as missing placement hours due to a sick child or family emergency, which can result in an unsatisfactory grade.

Social work students in particular are taught throughout their education through CASWE Standards “to identify negative or inequitable policies and their implications and outcomes, especially for disadvantaged and oppressed groups, and to participate in efforts to change these.”  So let’s acknowledge the negative and inequitable policies that results in massive financial burdens and insurmountable barriers to graduation for many social work students.

An analysis of our All Work is Work survey that currently has 34 submissions, speaks to the problematic nature of unpaid placements.

Graph provided by the All Work is Work campaign

The survey results showed that 30 students lost wages throughout their placement, compared to 4 students who did not. Twenty-two students had to take an unpaid leave of absence to compensate for hours spent completing their placement, compared to 12 students who stated they balanced both their paid position in conjunction with their unpaid placement hours. Furthermore, 29 of the student respondents had to at least reduce their hours of work in order to adequately dedicate enough time to finishing their unpaid placement hours.

As one anonymous student stated in the All Work is Work survey, “Being in a program that works with underprivileged populations, I find myself being in the same situation as my clients. I feel like I’m struggling financially. Tuition is already so expensive, and school books added on top of that. Having to do an unpaid placement means I cannot work at my regular job and then I risk not being able to pay my bills on time, have money to buy groceries or put gas in my car.”

Many students further expressed frustration that they were forced to quit their paid job, were unable to find work due to limited available hours, had to find new part-time jobs, or had to balance paid and unpaid positions.

Emphasizing this frustration, one anonymous student stated that an unpaid placement “makes it difficult because only people who can afford to not get paid can do a placement option. I have had friends find amazing employment opportunities, yet because it was paid they were not allowed to take the job for their placements.”

Another student said, “I find it incredibly unfair that placements are mandatory yet we are not allowed to be compensated for them.”

On the other hand, expecting paid placements from non-profit organizations is something many students understand is not always feasible and students also appreciate the educational value of these placements.

As another student expressed throughout the All Work is Work survey, “I think that forcing paid placement on social services agencies is going to drastically limit opportunities to train in the field for placement students of the Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work programs. These agencies are underfunded and students often don’t have the skills the agencies would normally require, so asking them to compensate students is not fair.”

This student goes on to suggest that, “instead of paid placement, I would have preferred reduced/no tuition for the placement semester… I think the university could stand to not profit from students paying full price for a semester in which students aren’t actually on campus and receiving minimal support from professors/practicum liaisons.”

A model that leaves students uncompensated is not necessary. There are avenues in which students could be compensated for their time. There are ways to make the process less of a financial burden – either through wages or other forms of financial compensation.

A reduction in tuition or charging similar fees to existing co-op programs are also possible options. It is understandable that some tuition may well be required to ensure that there are funds to compensate administrative staff related to the placement program; however, the amount students pay should directly reflect the supervision and guidance they receive.

All of this to say, there are options.

Many students echoed the fact that they are living in financial crisis and often unable to manage unpaid placement, paid work, and classes. “I had to quit my job to be able to manage school and placement,” one said. Another explained “I cannot get a job because of the amount of time placement takes up and is causing financial problems.”

The survey results clearly demonstrate that students are dissatisfied with the quality of education they are receiving. Students demand better.

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