The ongoing battle against unpaid internships
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. At 23, Zuzana made a passionate speech before the European Parliament. This was 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 in the European Parliament, 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.
Improvements have been made throughout the institutions, with the European Parliament ensuring that all interns of MEPs will receive a decent remuneration. This comes on the back of the European External Action Service’s decision to start paying all interns in its Delegations.
‘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 previously organised a Global Intern Strike.
How can I avoid such internships?
There are many helpful sites which look to protect young people from being exploited in the workplace, and strive to punish those who do not treat their interns in a fair manner.
Two prominent websites, Transparency at Work, and InternsGoPro allow former interns to provide reviews of their employer, and allow prospective applicants to gain an insight into the working environment. Both are supported by the European Institutions, with Transparency at Work co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme.
In addition, the Just Pay! campaign looks to pressurise organisations to only engage in paid internships through a variety of methods.
With the job market in Europe moving to a position whereby internships are a requirement for many to bridge the gap between education and the labour market, the pressure on institutions and organisations to abandon unpaid internships will almost certainly increase.