The Eurocadres blog

Time to end unpaid internships!

20.2.2017BlogGeneral

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Working with policy issues on the European level you are bound to meet interns in institutions, companies and NGOs. Internships are a way of training through work. Even in trade unions we have them. But are the conditions for all interns fair? A strike taking place today demanding the end to unpaid internships clearly shows that there is need for better conditions.

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Today, February 20th 2017, interns are gathering in Brussels, Geneva, New York, Toronto and London to protest against the practice to not pay interns. 

Internships can be a good way to create links between education and the labour market. But far from all internships are a part of studies. It is instead common that companies, institutions and NGOs offer internships to persons that have already completed their higher education.

And, let's face it: an important part of an internship is to actually perform work. That work is what enables learning in the first place. Gaining work experience. That work should be paid, as all work should. 

Apart from not receiving any monetary support, which of course is bound to put off potential interns with less financial means, the situation can cause other problems. Not being inscribed in any education and not having a paid job, but at the same time performing work, can create difficulties with social security. Considering that many interns are young professionals making use of their freedom of mobility, registration of residence/stay to the authorities could also become problematic when you have no official income.

And, let's face it: an important part of an internship is to actually perform work. That work is what enables learning in the first place. Gaining work experience. That work should be paid, as all work should. 

Here in Brussels an NGO for interns, wittingly named BINGO, Brussels Interns NGO have joined together in the campaign Just Pay which has managed to make European headlines in Politico the past few days. This was done by putting in the spotlight the use of unpaid interns at the European External Action Service. The European Ombudsman has reacted stating that "an appropriate allowance" should be paid by the EU diplomatic corps EEAS. 

EEAS refers to the widespread use of unpaid internships, for example in the UN. It is not by chance that of today's actions, two are taking place in Geneva and New York, where many unpaid UN-interns reside. But the EEAS argument is of course not valid. That a practice is widespread is no reason for not changing it when it clearly is an unfair practice.

I for one will stand in solidarity with interns today. From Eurocadres we support ways that help in gaining work experience during or after a higher education degree is good. But work, should be paid – as should internships!

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The author

Martin Jefflén
President of Eurocadres