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The rise up against unpaid internships

© Sarah Benke
Under the demand of banning unpaid internships in EU institutions the European Youth Forum and the Youth Intergroup launch the campaign for fair internships giving support to the global movement that reclaims dignity for young interns.

One year ago Zuzana started her internship expecting a learning experience meaningful for her career. Instead, this Czech student of Adult education was relegated to make coffee for her employers. She felt treated like a cheap worker in what she describes as a ‘depressing’ experience. One year later, Zuzana Vaněčková, 23 years old, gives a passionate speech in the European Parliament about her experience. It is the launch of the Campaign for Fair internships, in which she is now involved.


The Campaign reclaims basic employment rights for interns and asks for paid internships that offer a meaningful learning experience. In their manifesto, with 9 members of the European Parliament as first signatories, they demand the European Parliament to pay trainees, to fix the maximum duration of the internship to 12 months and draw up a learning agreement.


The co-chair of the Youth Intergroup, Terry Reintke, remarks that this #fairinternships Campaign is an opportunity to send a strong message against the normalisation of unpaid internships. As she points out “some interns are under unbearable conditions, and only few can afford to have access to a long unpaid internship, which brings more inequality”.


According to the survey with 233 European Parliament interns, those working for political groups get paid, but 8% of the interns working for Member of the European Parliament don’t get any allowance and 3% received less than 300 euros; 12% received between 300 and 600 euros, 32% between 600 and 1000 euros and 44% more than 1000 euros. In 2013 the figure for unpaid internships was 17% so this shows an improvement.


In comparison with the broad labour market, internships at European Institutions usually present better conditions. An Employers Guide to Quality Internships was developed by the Youth Forum with the support of the European Commission and the European Youth Foundation of the Council of Europe.


The European Economic Social Committee hosted an International Labour Organisation Consultation in 2012 where a European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships was presented by the European Youth Forum. EU Social Partners committed themselves for more and better traineeships and apprenticeships. At Eurodesk website you can find a wide offer of internships.


“Institutions set the tone to the broader labour market” says Bryan Watkins from the Global Intern Coalition, a movement that tries to bring together intern movements around the world and that has recently organised the Global Intern Strike.


One EU institution, European External Action Service, was recently the object of an investigation of the European Ombudsman that found that EEAS had 800 unpaid trainees all over the world. On 15th February, the Ombudsman issued a recommendation alleging that this institution “acted wrongly by failing to offer remuneration for certain internships”.


Beyond the EU institutions, all over Europe 4.5 million students and graduates undertake an internship each year in Europe, 59% of whom are unpaid. Could you imagine a public database where you could find a rating of companies according how they treat their interns? That’s the idea of Interns Go Pro. Its co-founder, Regis Pradal, explains that a ranking will be established and companies could achieve a European Label for Quality Internships. Universities, NGOs, job portals, big media, young people and employers are asked to join this initiative in order to bring transparency to youth employment.