Recent media attention on the situation of David, a homeless UN intern, compelled to live in a tent by the shores of the Leman lake in Geneva has shed the lights on a phenomenon which is not new: the poor and unacceptable conditions of many interns in Europe, including within elite institutions such as the United Nations or the European Commission.
The European Youth Forum fully supports the call of the UN intern organisations asking for a fair remuneration of the interns. Today more than 65% of the UN interns are unpaid and the European Commission also continues to offer unpaid internships. These institutions promoting universal values such as human rights and workers rights and portraying themselves as global leaders must also lead the way on fair working conditions for their own interns and workers. It is unacceptable that interns are referred to as “gratis personnel” as in a number of UN documents.
Internships in Europe have gone from an exception to the rule. With 14 million young people across Europe not in education, employment or training, internships are critical in bridging the gap between the world of education and the world of work. However, the rampant spread of unpaid internships means that getting an internship and accessing certain sectors or Institutions becomes a privilege: among the 4.5 millions interns across Europe, 60% are unpaid and 40% have no contract. This also dramatically increases the risk of young people falling into poverty and social exclusion.
Internships should represent a stepping-stone to good quality jobs. Instead of this, they are right now a tool for exploitation of young people and a barrier to the employment from which only a small proportion can benefit.
Other key elements for quality internships include educational value and fair working conditions. Today, only 20% of the internships in Europe have defined learning outcomes and one out of four are still reported as having bad working conditions.
The Youth Forum continues to fight against the on-going abuse of young people through unpaid, poor quality internships which are rife in many industries and sectors and, unfortunately, continue to be prevalent in European and international institutions. The Charter for quality internships and apprenticeships, created by the European Youth Forum in collaboration with youth organisations, Parliamentarians and trade unions, establishes the basic framework internships need in order to be valuable learning experiences for the young people who participate in them. The European Youth Forum also published a toolkit for employers to make them aware of how their businesses could benefit for giving interns quality-working conditions.
We are calling on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to enable a discussion on the subject of budgetary requirements to pay interns at the UN General Assembly in September, to the member states of the UN to provide a budget for the payment of UN interns and also appeal to all the decision-makers’ and businesses leaders’ sense of responsibility and fairness and to commit to providing quality internships for young people.
Find out more on quality internship here.