Categoria: International

On interns' rights: time to follow through within governmental bodies

During the sleepiest week of the year, the story has been flooding the press all over Europe and beyond, causing an uproar: a 22-year-old New Zealander, David H., unable to sustain himself during an unpaid internship within the United Nations Secretary, has resolved to give up proper housing and live in a tent hitched up on the grounds overlooking Geneva's lake, somewhere in the city's Botanical Garden.Public attention to the story was brought about by the local newspaper Tribune de Géneve, which first broke the story, and fueled by an open statement that the young man, an International Relations graduate, released on Wednesday, drawing a handful of cameras outside UN’s European headquarters. The statement, to which the intern refused to comment on, reads as follows (video here): «I am announcing my resignation from the United Nations’ internship program. I want to make it very clear that the UN did not ask me to leave or pressure me to make this decision in any way. It’s my own decision and I chose to resign because I feel that it would be too difficult to continue to focus on my work as an intern at this stage. I just want to make it clear that no person forced me to sleep in a tent, but rather my circumstances and the conditions for this internship made it the only real possibility that I could see. After graduating I began to apply for jobs, but all I could really find was internships. In every interview, the same questions always came up towards the end: can you afford to fully fund yourself for the duration of this internship? When I answered this with an honest “no”, my application was declined. And so when I applied for this role with the UN I did not fully disclose my financial situation. I said I had enough to support myself but I really didn’t, and I got the job. The UN was clear about their internship policy from the start: no wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance, no health assistance. I understood this, and in that regard, I have to take responsibility for accepting the internship in the first place. Call me young and call me idealistic but at the same time, as I have expressed earlier, I do not feel that this is a fair system. At this stage I think the focus needs to move away from me. Interns all over the world need to come together and push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve. Because, as the Declaration of Human Rights states so clearly, “everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration” I hope to see the United Nations becoming a role model for all on the issue of internships in the future». Repubblica degli Stagisti, among the contributors to the European Quality Charter on Internships and Apprenticeships,  has often spoken about unpaid internships within European organisations and has recently published an article specifically devoted to UN's contradictions [read "The shame of unpaid internships at the United Nations: the interns protest"], drawing on the last advocacy event that took place on July 18th, precisely in Geneva. Here, according to the local Interns Association, the UN and its agencies employed around 160 interns every year, two thirds of whom were unpaid (data 2013).The story of the young intern living in a tent in the sixth most expensive city in the world, understandbly enough, was shocking to most - catching off guard the protagonist's mother herself -  and unleashed a stream of solidarity from all over Europe. Repubblica degli Stagisti has verified the story first-hand and has solid ground to hold that the facts are true and the account given in the statement genuine, despite rumors in the online press stating otherwise. It is however expected to report further on the subject, shedding light on elements which it agreed not to disclose for the time being due to privacy concerns.In the meantime, RdS has agreed to sign a joint press release with some of the world's most involved youth organisations (InternsGoPro, the Brussels Interns NGO, Génération Précaire, Interns Australia, Plattform Generation Praktikum) reporting the story and urging «United Nations member states to introduce and adopt a resolution prohibiting unpaid internships at the UN, thus respecting young people’s right to work and to fair pay while enabling the institution to live up to its ideals of equality and human rights». Indeed, as the brave intern's statement pointed out, it is not about a single case - reason why this newpaper, symbolically, chose not to fully mention his name. Focusing on the sensational story, however appetizing for the media (for a couple of days),  would be useless, if not actually detrimental to the shared cause. It is, in fact, an excellent opportunity to renew the interns' cause on the EU political agenda. Political action is what is needed and what the organisations are tenaciously pursuing through synergy and joint action.Repubblica degli Stagisti has suggested to start working at a joint call to the UN which would formally request the adoption of fair working conditions for its interns, as anticipated in the press release, and so far feedbacks from fellow activists have been positive. On the other hand InternsGoPro and the European Youth Forum, the platform of EU non-governmental youth organisations, have agreed upon November 10th as being the date for 2015 International Interns Day, which will most likely take place at the European Parliament in Brussel, backed up by simultaneous events in other European cities  (brand new Facebook event here and landing page here). The ambitious goal would be to get at least one UN member state to present a resolution to the European Parliament.Time to change, isn't it?Annalisa Di Palo[Picture © patrick gillièron loprero]  

The shame of unpaid internships at the United Nations: the interns protest

More than 200 people, in Brussel only, to support interns’ rights: it’s the European Interns Day organized on Saturday July 18th by 20 NGOs - including InternsGoPro and the European Youth Forum – to draw attention on this issue. Unpaid internships are a worldwide problem and the situation is getting worse thanks to the economic crisis: 60% of the 4.5 million interns in Europe are unpaid and 40% work without a contract.  But the most unbelievable fact is that many of these internships are for international organizations like the United Nations. Repubblica degli Stagisti, the most important Italian online newspaper completely dedicated to the defense of interns, has been revealing the inequity of unpaid internships in the non-governmental organizations from many years.  We started in 2011 writing about the “black list of international organization”, where internships were unpaid. The article was mentioning the Genève case: already back then, interns were unpaid as in other UN offices, such as Wien and New York. In 2014 RdS wrote about unpaid internships within Italian NGOs: in that case young interns were unpaid, too, while the no profit sector was growing, representing the 6,4% of the Italian economy. On July of the same year RdS wrote about another case: UNCHR in Rome was offering 35euro a month for its interns. The same cost of the bus monthly pass in the city. And it was even in contrast with the Italian law which foresees the obligation to provide a refund for extracurricular internships. The demonstration of July 18th took place also in Genève, among other locations, in Place des Nations, where sixty people, among interns, students, and young professionals, demonstrated asking the UN to provide fairly remunerated quality internships.   During the event, organized by the Geneve Interns Association and the Pay Your Interns initiative, young people were showing slogan “Unpaid is unfair” in front of the United Nation Palace. In the city where the headquarters of 32 international organizations are situated, according to a 2013 survey of the European Commission’s Eurobarometer, 67% of trainees are unpaid, making internships accessible only to those who have financial support from their family.  That’s why on May 1st, 2015, a group of young interns decided to create the Pay your interns movement, which now has already around 900 supporters on Facebook. It’s a group of students, interns and young professionals of different affiliations, «united by the aim of achieving fairly remunerated quality internships, and hence to give to every young person equal chance to advance in his or her career, regardless of the economic and social background». One of the purpose of the United Nations is to promote worldwide the principles of article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights: «everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration». But, it fails to do so within its own organization. And this happens in Geneve, one of the most expensive city in the world, according to the ECA.  Surely, the situation has been getting worse due to the economic crisis, which has had a massive impact on international organization and NGO funding. As a result, interns are often hired for positions that require certain expertise, and that in the past would have been filled by paid employees. But something might change, at least for not international organization and NGOs interns, thanks to a petition launched by Francois Leford. A member of Genève’s green party, Leford put forward a local parliamentary motion calling for an end to the abuse of internships. In the petition he’s asking for all interns to be properly paid, from 1,100 chf a month, for those with a bachelor degree, and 2,200 chf for master and higher degrees. Only by stopping unpaid internships, we will be able to help young people facing their future. In the meanwhile, interns have a new help from InternsGoPro, a network of youth-led organizations, whose mission is to promote a new standard for internships. On their website, it is possible to find online ratings of various internship programs, and information such as if an internship, even if unpaid, gives real opportunities to find a job after its conclusion.«The Genève event was very successful» says Matteo De Simone, member of Pay your interns to Repubblica degli Stagisti. «It’s the second public event we have organized and there was a good media attention. Participants were students and university associations. There’s going to be a “Youth initiative day” in October. And in a few weeks we are going to send an open letter to UNS and to general directors with the intention of highlighting our concern with the current organization of the internship programs within the UN».Pay your interns have many concrete proposals they want to submit to UNS, wishing to align the working conditions of interns within the system with the values the UN stands for.  Marianna LeporePhotos credits: Antonio Bellotta