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Brussels interns say “Enough!” to abusive working conditions

Today at lunch I took a longer break and went to Place Luxemburg to support a very relevant initiative launched by a small group of interns in Brussels. Mostly coming from the UN office and some from private companies, the interns behind this initiative aimed to create an event to raise awareness of the poor conditions many of the Brussels interns have to work. Through social networks they managed to gather not only a big number of interns in the concentration (more than 200), but big attention from the media and also support from relevant stakeholders such as the European Youth Forum and the Youth Intergroup of the European Parliament.

Header of their Facebook event “The Sandwich Protest”

The concerns of the interns were clear and straightforward. The quality of the internships is sometimes quite poor, consisting in the repetition of mechanical tasks, without any tutoring or mentoring that ensures a learning process for the intern. Moreover, the interns are poorly paid (or even not paid at all) in what is not only a kind of exploitation, but also limits drastically the access to this (potentially) great learning opportunity to those who can afford a stay in Brussels. Another big problem is the lack of social benefits such as health care coverage, unemployment compensation… And finally, the sad fact is that in many cases, internships do not serve the purpose of shortening the transition period between education and the first job. Even worse, young graduates are in many cases forced to accept one internship after another, thus resulting in delays of the process that was supposed to be shortened and making the first years of the career of young professionals a very uncertain period.

As a student organization, AEGEE-Europe feels very close to the requests of these interns who, seeing the problems in the system, take action to improve it. Their approach is very balanced, as they do not blame the institutions or companies where they are working. They acknowledge that “an internship in Brussels is a great chance to develop practical skills and to gain work experience”. They stated in their declaration that the protest is not against their employers, but against the mindset that makes people think that you should feel lucky when you are earning 400 euros for performing tasks which would correspond to an employee. It is about unfairness and finding a solution to improve the situation.

Reading the declaration (Picture taken from the Internal Voices website)

The timing of their protest cannot be more adequate. The European Youth Forum presented already their European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships and the MEP Karima Delli announced that the European Parliament has also their charter ready, only waiting for the Commission to give leave. Now there is also bottom-up pressure, with the affected interns taking initiative and receiving support of almost every actor in the field. It is high time the European Union provides a quality framework for internships to prevent them from creating an alternative labour-market which lacks equal opportunities to access an often precarious temporary position. We would like the European Union to take the first step and lead this change by example, by ensuring proper conditions to all the interns they host in their institutions, to prove that it is possible and even a win-win situation, because a poorly treated intern soon gets demotivated and its work efficiency is reduced.

They will continue the movement with a new meeting in October. If you want to follow the process, make sure you keep yourself informed through their event in facebook.