EU institutions must ensure fair conditions for all their interns

Written by Terry Reintke on 18 July 2017 in Opinion
Opinion

The European Parliament has repeatedly called for social progress and the protection of EU workers' rights, while failing to offer its own interns decent working conditions, writes Terry Reintke.

Terry Reintke | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
 

It's no secret that some interns face a dire situation: badly paid - if at all - with mostly unstable contracts. Still, the report published by the European Ombudsman on unpaid internships within the European External Action Service, presented rather disturbing findings. 

 
Following the publication of this report, we read stories from interns within the European institutions, who did not have enough money to buy food, or not enough money to afford a flat in Brussels and had to sleep on camping sites and in tents. 
 
Their working conditions were- to put it gently - precarious. It became quite clear that interns are very often the last in line when it comes to workers' rights. 
 
The European Parliament's youth intergroup believes it is the House's duty to ensure decent working conditions for its interns.
 
According to a survey within the Parliament, which was initiated at the beginning of this year, only one in two interns receives an allowance that is sufficient to cover the everyday costs of living in Brussels. 
 
Almost 10 per cent are unpaid and only one in four interns have signed a learning agreement outlining the skills and qualifications to be enhanced during the internship. 
 
This is the same institution that calls for the promotion of social progress within the EU. While upholding workers' rights and pronouncing the fight against precarious employment, we tend to forget about the 4.5 million unpaid interns in the European Union. 
 
Interns' rights are workers' rights and if we take them seriously, we must put an end to the exploitation of interns. 
 
It is a shame that the European institutions, above all the European Parliament, seem to forget their warm words on youth empowerment when it comes to internships within their own premises. Young people are far too often required to finance their internships with their own resources. 
 
They depend on their parents or own reserves - if they have any. In reality this often means that internships are only possible for those who have the financial means necessary to work for free. 
 
The European Ombudsman, Emily O'Reilly, has recommended that all interns should be paid an appropriate allowance to allow greater access to internships for young people of all backgrounds. 
 
She pointed out that internships "can be a significant stepping stone in young peoples' careers and should be available to as broad a range of people as possible."
 
O'Reilly argues that unpaid internships may perpetuate social exclusion - and she is absolutely right. By simply paying for internships, we can help prevent social marginalisation and inequality among young people.
 
The European institutions, as defenders of shared values and fair working conditions, should take up the cause of fair working conditions for everyone. We should lead by example. 
 
In order to tackle the problem of unpaid internships in the European Parliament, the youth intergroup has initiated the #FairInternships campaign that aims to ensure quality internships for everyone in the European Parliament. 
 
The #FairInternships manifesto demands that:
 
Interns get a decent remuneration that should cover living expenses;
The standard duration of internships should not exceed six months and the maximum duration should not be longer than 12 months;
A learning agreement outlining the objectives of the internship must be included in the contract.
We want to send a clear message: no more unpaid internships within the EU institutions. We want to gather broad support for this project. So far more than 135 MEPs have signed the manifesto. 
 
A letter by the co-chairs of the youth intergroup on this matter has been sent to Parliament President Antonio Tajani, asking him to change the rules governing internships offered by MEPs and political groups, in order to ensure quality internships for all interns in this house. 
 
The goal is to have the support of as many MEPs as possible. But we call not only on the European Parliament, but on all European institutions to abide by the legal standards that apply to the place where the internship is performed. 
 
This would mean that interns at the European institutions in Brussels must have a right to Belgian minimum wage that also applies to interns in Belgium. 
 
It is great to see that interns in Brussels are uniting and trying to make their voices heard. 
 
The youth intergroup strongly support their claims and we will continue to fight for every intern to be paid at the European institutions and at any other place of work alike. Interns' rights are workers' rights.
About the author

Terry Reintke (Greens/EFA, DE) is a co-Chair of Parliament's youth intergroup

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