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The rise up against unpaid internships

Photographer: Sarah Benke
Under the demand of banning unpaid internships in EU institutions the European Youth Forum and the Youth Intergroup are launching the campaign for fair internships giving support to the global movement that reclaims dignity for interns

A year ago, when she started her internship, Zuzana Vaněčková was expecting a meaningful learning experience that would be useful for her career. Instead, this Czech student of adult education was relegated to making coffee for her employers. She felt that she was being exploited as cheap labour and describes it as a ‘depressing’ experience. Now, at 23, Zuzana is making a passionate speech before the European Parliament. This is the launch of the Campaign for Fair Internships, in which she plays an active part.


The Campaign is calling for basic employment rights for interns and demanding paid internships that provide a meaningful learning experience. In their manifesto, immediately signed by 9 members of the European Parliament, they call on Parliament to:

·       pay interns

·       limit the maximum duration of an internship to 12 months, and

·       draw up a learning agreement.


Terry Reintke, Co-Chair of the Youth Intergroup, describes this #fairinternships Campaign as an opportunity to send a strong message against the normalisation of unpaid internships. As she points out, some interns have to work under intolerable conditions, and only a few can afford to take up a long unpaid internship. The existence of such internships exacerbates inequality of access to paid positions.


According to a survey conducted in January and February 2017 among 233 European Parliament interns, those working for political groups were paid. However, payment for those working for Members of Parliament varied as follows:

·       no payment — 8 % of interns

·       under €300 - 3 % of interns

·       between €300 and €600 -12 %

·       between €600 and €1000 - 32 %

·       over €1000, - 44 % . 


Given that 17 % of internships were unpaid in 2013, there has been some improvement.


While the situation at the European Parliament still leaves much to be desired, the European institutions generally offer their interns better conditions than other organisations on the broader labour market. To improve matters, the Youth Forum has produced an Employers' Guide to Quality Internships, with the support of the European Commission and the Council of Europe’s European Youth Foundation.


In 2012, the European Youth Forum presented a European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships  at the International Labour Organisation Consultation hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee. EU trade unions and employers’ organisations committed themselves to offering more and better internships and apprenticeships. For a wide variety of internships, take a look at the Eurodesk website.


‘Institutions set the tone for the broader labour market,’ says Bryan Watkins of the Global Intern Coalition, a movement aiming to bring together intern movements from around the world, which has recently organised a Global Intern Strike.


One EU institution, the European External Action Service, was recently investigated by the European Ombudsman, who found that it had no fewer than 800 unpaid trainees worldwide. On 15 February 2017, the Ombudsman issued a recommendation which stated that the institution ‘acted wrongly by failing to offer remuneration for certain internships’.


Beyond the EU institutions, 4.5 million students and graduates all over Europe undertake an internship each year in Europe — and 59 % of them are unpaid. So how can you find out how companies treat their interns? That’s the idea behind Interns Go Pro, a public database that rates firms on this basis Co-founder Régis Pradal explains that this will culminate in a ranking enabling companies to achieve a European Label for Quality Internships. Universities, NGOs, job portals, big media, young people and employers are asked to join in this initiative to bring transparency to youth employment.

Published Tue, 07/03/2017 - 17:19
Last updated on Tue, 13/08/2019 - 15:02

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