European Parliament President throws weight behind fresh calls to ban unpaid internships

EU must end ‘exploitation’ of young people, demands David Sassoli.
young people in the workplace

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Oct 2020

Speaking at a news conference, Sassoli voiced concern about the number of interns and trainees who are still not paid, both in Europe and the EU institutions.

It is believed that more than half of young trainees in Europe are not paid during their traineeship.

The Italian MEP said, “This battle against unpaid internships has been going on for a long time. For too long we have got used to unpaid traineeships but this has got to change.”

His comments come as parliament, this week voted on reform of the commission’s “youth guarantee” legislation which commits all EU Member States to ensure that young people obtain a good quality offer of employment, continued education, apprenticeship or traineeship within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.

A parliamentary resolution included a series of recommendations which go beyond reform of the youth guarantee, putting interns and trainees’ rights “at the centre of the discussion.”

The resolution calls on the European Commission and Member States to propose “a common legal instrument” which “ensures and enforces fair remuneration for internships, traineeships and apprenticeships in the EU’s labour market.”

“We cannot, any longer, have young people being exploited. The EU must commit to this and to respecting interns’ employment rights” European Parliament President David Sassoli

The text also condemns the practice of unpaid internships, traineeships and apprenticeships, which, it says, “constitutes a form of exploitation of young people’s work and a violation of their rights.”

It also proposes extending the use of EU “SURE” funding to support national measures for young interns, such as income support or short time work schemes and emphases the importance of “quality” work” for interns.

Sassoli told reporters, “The youth guarantee is an important tool and sends out a message that interns deserve a decent wage. We have got used to unpaid traineeships but in the previous parliamentary term we tried to change that in parliament.”

“The weakest part of the chain, though, has always been trainees and we got used to the idea that just doing a stage was enough to make a young person happy. But there has to be remuneration for their work.

“We cannot, any longer, have young people being exploited. The EU must commit to this and to respecting interns’ employment rights.”

Even though the European Parliament has banned unpaid internships, he admitted, “there are grey areas within the EU institutions and the EU must show the way on this.”

“The European Parliament is now leading by example, and unpaid internships are illegal in the House. What we want now is for this to be replicated across the EU so that, once and for all, we rid ourselves of the problem of unpaid interns”  Brando Benifei MEP

While there are not thought to be any unpaid interns in parliament, last year a report said a quarter of interns in MEP offices are paid less than €600 a month. Political group leaders said in 2019 that interns should be hired directly by parliament, have their health insurance covered and be remunerated between €800 and €1,313 per month.

Speaking at the same news conference on Wednesday, Brando Benifei, head of the Italian delegation for the S&D group, said, “While the youth guarantee reform does not tackle directly the matter of unpaid internships in the EU institutions, the text adopted by the parliament and being voted on in plenary shines a light on the situation, not only within the EU institutions but in the EU labour market as a whole.”

He told reporters, “All we call for is fair pay for trainees and apprenticeships and that the social and labour rights of young people are met. What is needed is a joint legal tool to ensure they have fair and equal pay.”

“We have worked hard in this parliament to get rid of the previously huge number of unpaid interns here.  It was a huge battle but we finally managed to change the rules.”

He added, “The European Parliament is now leading by example, and unpaid internships are illegal in the House. What we want now is for this to be replicated across the EU so that, once and for all, we rid ourselves of the problem of unpaid interns.”

Also speaking at the briefing, Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, chair of parliament’s Employment and Social Affairs committee and rapporteur for the file, said she supported demands for an “end to unpaid internships.”

Another speaker, Frédéric Piccavet, of the European Youth Forum, which represents 100 national youth councils, told reporters, “This comes at a vital time with the health crisis risking a lost generation. There are still a huge number of unpaid internships in Europe and the youth guarantee has the potential to address this.”

“The resolution is a real sign that parliament has heard what the fair internships campaign calls for. We want quality standards for interns and a ban on unpaid internships. The exploitative practice of cheap, free labour violates the rights of young people and must end.”

In January, youth unemployment in Europe was at 14.9 percent. In August, it hit 17.6 percent and this is expected to double in the next few months. One in six young people have stopped working since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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