Fighting for fairer working conditions for interns

Written by Brando Benifei on 7 November 2018 in Opinion

In the battle for better conditions for trainees, Parliament can set an example by banning unpaid internships, says Italian Socialist MEP Brando Benifei, one of Parliament’s youngest deputies

Brando Benifei | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

We want young Europeans to trust us, the legislators, as the people that can build a fairer society.

We should treat them with the greatest consideration and the highest respect, creating a future for them that is able to respond to their needs and aspirations.

Yet the transition from education and training to the workplace, including traineeships, internships and apprenticeships, is often a nightmare.


In Europe, almost 60 percent of traineeships are unpaid, while four in ten trainees have no contract and three in ten agreements do not specify any learning content.

For many of the 4.5 million trainees in Europe, their internship, which is often unofficially mandatory in order to find a job, contains little educational value and offers none of the security standards of a real job.

The ‘learning-by- doing’ principle has been replaced by that of an ‘exploitation’ principle; internships risk perpetrating economic inequalities and social exclusion rather than reducing them.

All European social partners have made e­fforts to promote quality standards, including the European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships by the European Youth Forum, which focuses on issues such as education, rights, and remuneration, along with the 2014 EU Recommendation on Quality Framework for Traineeships.

“The ‘learning-by-doing’ principle has been replaced by that of an ‘exploitation’ principle; internships risk perpetrating economic inequalities and social exclusion rather than reducing them”

However, we need to do more. Impressive statements need to be bolstered by concrete action. Younger generations are following up with, for example, the “Transparency at Work” platform. MEPs must act as well.

This is why I hope that we can discuss and approve new internal rules on interns’ recruitment and working conditions. According to these, interns will be hired directly by the European Parliament and their working conditions will be comparable to those offered under the Robert Schuman programme.

This means that all interns will receive a decent remuneration. This major change in Parliament’s life would be a direct follow-up to the #fairinternships campaign launched in 2017 by the youth intergroup that I co-chair.

According to a survey that we carried out last year, currently a quarter of interns working for MEPs and political groups in the European Parliament are paid less than €600 a month with eight percent of them unpaid.

This shocking situation made the intergroup commit to advocating for change, with the aim of abolishing unpaid internships and grant decent working conditions and clear learning objectives to all.

I thank my 140 colleagues and partners from civil society that signed our “Manifesto for Fair Internships in the European Parliament” and supported our 18-month campaign for a fairer working environment for the young.

As 2018 European Interns Day approaches, we have reached a turning point. We have to lead by example or we will once again lose a chance to prove our democratic legitimacy for the millions of young people looking for a concrete reason to believe in the EU.

Running the #fairinternships campaign has been a real challenge for myself and the intergroup. Yet all the European Parliament trainees that we met showed a great level of trust and encouraged us not to give up our efforts.

We should not let them down.

About the author

Brando Benifei is co-chair of the youth Intergroup and a member of the employment committee

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