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PSI’s General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli gave her strong message of support to the intern movement saying:
“Unpaid internships, zero hour contracts and other forms of precarious work are trapping young people in poor quality employment and wasting their potential. We endorse the Global Intern Strike and stand alongside these young people speaking up for their most basic workers’ rights!”
The global protests are being held under the banner of a strike to highlight how young precarious workers are adopting labour movement strategies and looking towards unions for support. Interns often lack basic rights such as health care and protection from harassment with unpaid positions increasingly replacing real jobs and entry level employment.
The UN’s own World Youth Report highlighted how unpaid internships can pave the way to “exploitation” and the ILO is increasingly examining the practice as part of their research into labour market trends. Despite this, the UN continues to exploit over 2200 unpaid interns in a year, adding up to over a million hours of unpaid labour. PSI has previously written to the organisation, calling for change and intends to raise the issue with the new administration.
The Global Intern Strike has gained the support of a wide range of unions including PSI, our affiliates SSP-VPOD in Switzerland and the ACFO in Canada as well as the ITUC Youth Committee. Public leaders have also spoken out in support of the protests with MEP Terry Reintke, representing a group of over 100 politicians, saying “we want to ban unpaid internships from all EU institutions, we very strongly support the global intern strikes.”
Ahead of the day of action, the movement achieved a stunning victory after the EU Ombudsman announced a scathing ruling against the use of hundreds of unpaid interns within EU institutions.
Unpaid internships are most associated with professionalized industries such as public affairs, government, finance and media sectors, but their prevalence is growing in other sectors across the globe. Last November, students in Italy occupied a McDonald’s after the government and big-businesses created a program that forced high-school students to take part in ‘work experience’ programs by interning for a range of billion dollar corporations, including the global fast food giant. The same model is also spreading in China, where students work as unpaid interns for the notorious tech manufacturing company FoxConn - assembling consumer electronics for export.
It is estimated that in Europe alone there are over three million young people working as unpaid interns per year, equivalent to the entire workforce of Denmark. While advocates of unpaid internships claim that they are a ‘learning experience,’ interns usually complete real work of real value for their employers, while receiving little or no remuneration. Furthermore, as internships become a key stepping stone into the wider labour market, those who cannot afford to work for free are left behind, limiting social mobility, increasing inequality and wasting the talent of young people.
PSI encourages affiliates and supporters to sign the open letter of endorsement for the Global Intern Strike and calls on employers and leaders to ensure that young people have access to quality, entry level employment with all the established rights and norms which the labour movement has fought to achieve.