Saying vs. Doing

Canada’s Conservative party has never struck me as one to be tough on corporate mistakes. So you can understand my surprise in hearing that Health Canada is gearing up to sign an bill into law that allows parliament to fine offending corporations $5 million dollars per day.

Take a moment to get your jaw off the floor, and then consider taping it into place. The bill will also allow the government to dump executives of said offending corporations into jail.

Who are the potential offenders? Pharmaceutical companies. Yes; the government is taking at at Big Pharma. I still don’t believe it, or at least don’t believe the bill will make it into law.

The bill is being advertised as “Vanessa’s Law” because it was tabled after a minister’s daughter died because of a prescription medication (Prepulsid).

The full list of what Health Canada can do to is as follows:

  • Require mandatory adverse drug reaction reporting by health-care institutions.
  • Allow the federal government to recall unsafe products.
  • Provide the courts with discretion to impose even stronger fines if violations were caused intentionally.
  • Compel drug companies to revise labels to clearly reflect health risk.
  • Compel drug companies to do further testing on a product, including when issues are identified with certain at-risk populations such as children.
  • Impose new penalties for unsafe products, including jail time and new fines up to $5 million a day. That’s an increase from the current $5,000 a day.

The Problem

Corporate decision making. Many companies have shareholders that also share in running the company, usually forming boards of directors and things of that nature. Further complicating any implication in criminal negligence, individual parts of the company have individuals responsible for what happens in that part of the company. So the question is “Who do we throw in jail?”

To be honest, I hope Health Canada has serious reach when it comes to narrowing down the candidates in that kind of search. Criminalizing something does not always halt that activity, so saying it is illegal is not going to be enough and there had better be ways of following through on what I think are big promises.

The Bottom Line

I like what is being proposed. It seems to protect consumers and is designed to keep appropriate agencies informed. Potential fines and jail time are great added value.

That said, I think following through on jail time for the right person will be like trying to get directions from a deaf mute that knows excellent sign language that is definitely not the sign you learned in a university elective.

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Before We Begin a Witch Hunt…

Hello everyone! My apologies for a late blog: some ducks had to be put in a row for this one to be published. Now, on to defending internships…

In the past 4 months alone, there has been a deluge of news stories exemplifying bad internships. However, unpaid internships are not inherently evil. The circumstances and result of internships, on the other hand, could pass inspection as evil.

For those same 4 months, two days of every week have been booked for what is essentially an internship. It is not called that, but it functions the same way: I do work for a company and am not paid. This arrangement came about because I met with an experienced member of the marketing industry who invited me to learn more about said industry by doing volunteer work at the company where she works.

What Works

This internship works for a few reasons. It takes up only six hours every week, and I can work additional hours if I feel like it or need to so that work is completed. My direct supervisor is acting as a mentor: answering questions, inviting me to participate in tasks, allowing me to make my own mistakes, and providing honest feedback.

The most important part is how much control I had over the arrangement. I was asked to set my hourly commitment. I am expected to be honest if I think that I will be unable to complete a task.

Obviously those tasks benefit the company, but they are also relevant to my career goals. That is enhanced further by the aforementioned face-to-face feedback that flows both ways. The intentional results are refinement of my skills (helping me) that benefits the company (skilled workers are generally do better work) and refinement of current employees’ skills in the organization (see previous parentheses).

Examples of What Does Not Work

I am not stuck in an internship of 12-hour days doing phone surveys on the premise that is “relevant work” for a management position (don’t teach me about quality control charts or how to manage the differences between individual employees – why would I need those as a manager?). I am not bussing tables for free at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel in Vancouver (I am still reeling at the fact Fairmont is serious).

The Issues

Based on what I have read in the articles above and my own experience, it seems like there are two main problems that make unpaid internships unbearable for interns.

Over-Commitment

Human beings have fundamental needs. Eating, sleeping, drinking water, and having access to shelter and clothes are important for everyday life; so is having time to mentally unwind. No pay, no time to earn money on the side and limited leisure time because of a high number of working hours (and not listening to complaints) has unfortunate results.

Some will argue that the interns have made a choice to work the hours they do. That is true in some cases, and I am sure any intern takes their positions with faith that they will be treated well. Unrealistic time commitment expectations and no chance to have complaints heard does not constitute “well treatment”.

Actual Learning

Six 40-hour weeks performing phone surveys do not qualify as broadening a skill set. One week of phone surveys? That will teach someone a lot about the ground-level work and how to be patient in the face of anger and resentment, so it is not useless. However, an additional five weeks of phone surveys is like using a sledgehammer to drive home a finishing nail.

How about bussing tables at the Fairmont Vancouver for free? What can one learn from that internship? How to stack and carry more plates than looks reasonable and fake a smile.

The Bottom Line

Internships are not inherently evil. Everyone involved in an internship can benefit: interns gain skills, organizations gain trained employees and current employees (if they’re smart/willing to accept criticism) can refine their own skills. Keep internships alive, but make sure they deliver what is promised without pushing a human being past their bodily limits.