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Beware of Greenpeace's Plea for 'Volunteer Interns'

02/17/2015 01:07 EST | Updated 04/19/2015 05:59 EDT

Not only is Greenpeace Canada out to derail a Canadian economic mainstay and the Alberta and Canadian energy jobs that go with it. The latest revelation from the activist group's web site shows the controversial organization also wants students to work for free.

Progressive? Socially responsible? Acting in the best interests of young employees and working families? No, not so much.

Here's what the Canadian arm of the group that claims a global income of more than $400 million per year advertised on its Greenpeace.org website.

"Volunteer for change: Intern at Greenpeace," the on-line header proclaimed proudly. "Joining the team as a volunteer intern could be a life-changing experience for you..."

Life-changing experience? If you're a Canadian youth looking to enter the workforce, it's an experience that would put you on the fast track to poverty.

The oil and gas industry is cyclical. It has had its share of ups and downs over the last several decades, with cycles sometimes triggered by Middle Eastern market influences. As we all know, the result can mean lay-offs as prices drop and infrastructure plans are put on hold.

We've been there before -- and we'll get through it again as we always have. At the very least, working families will have the protection of Canadian law.

But Greenpeace's plea for "volunteer interns" is something different. Here's what the Ontario Ministry of Labour, with jurisdiction over the Greenpeace Canada office in Toronto, says about "volunteer internships" on its government web site:

"Generally, if you perform work for another person or a company or other organization and you are not in business for yourself, you would be considered to be an employee, and therefore entitled to Employment Standards Act rights such as the minimum wage. There are some exceptions, but they are very limited, and the fact that you are called an intern is not relevant."

This fairly clear ministry statement may explain why, when I and others questioned Greenpeace Canada via social media last week about the Greenpeace internship posting, the posting very quickly disappeared.

At the time of this writing, the Greenpeace volunteer internship page has been quietly removed, and the replacement page says only this:

Hello,

Apologies for the inconvenience but we have had to take down this posting.

Please stay tuned, an update on the status of our volunteer opportunities will be communicated to those that have shown interest.

Andrew Langille, Toronto-based labour lawyer who tweets under the handle @YouthAndWork, pointed out on social media that he thought Greenpeace "is running numerous illegal unpaid internship scams. Employee misclassification at its finest."

Those that closely follow Greenpeace Canada, though, might not have been surprised by this recent development. Working families haven't always been given a very fair shake by the activist group.

Back in December of 1992, Greenpeace staffers in the Toronto headquarters formed a union, the Toronto Greenpeace Staff Association. Soon after, according to one academic analysis of the day, union organizers and union supporters began to be harassed and laid off.

In an article by Labour/Le Travail, the journal of the Canadian Committee on Labour History which is widely available on-line, this ugly phase of Greenpeace Canada's history is laid out for all to see.

According to the article and news clippings from that time, a Greenpeace worker who was a member of the fledgling union executive was fired without just cause in early 1993, shortly after the union's creation. She was reinstated only after the Ontario Labour Relations Board ruled in the union's favour.

That's why some observers see the latest episode about "volunteer interns" as no surprise. We're used to seeing Greenpeace carry out its simplistic, anti-industry campaigns. We watch it grow rich on huge donations. But not paying its young "interns" for the mundane work of its Canadian offices seems especially ugly.

The working families I know have had enough.

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