Interns around the world are starting to protest, here's why

Interns around the world are starting to protest, here's why
Interns at the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials at a strike protesting unpaid internships in a supplied photograph.

No more unpaid work experiences and no more placements that are a waste of time. Interns have had enough and some of them have been staging protests around the world.

Intern rights organisations including the Global Intern Coalition were campaigning for the rights of interns on Feb 20 as they held protests in New York, Brussels and cities across the world.

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The "Global Intern Strike" targeted "governments, international organisations, employers and trade unions" to address "unpaid and poor quality internships", said the Global Intern Coalition, according to a Euronews report.

Unpaid internships "deny opportunity, waste talent and distort labour markets," the coalition added.

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While two main protests were staged outside European Union buildings and the UN in New York, smaller protests also popped up around the world.

About 35 foreigners working for free for the UN at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia took an extra-long lunch break on Monday to hold a one-hour strike in the court's cafeteria, reported Cambodia Daily.

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Throwing its weight behind the campaigners was Public Services International (PSI), a global trade union federation that represents 669 unions looking after 20 million workers in 154 countries

In a strongly worded statement, PSI's General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli said: "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 protesters are adopting labour movement strategies and hope unions will support their fight for basic rights such as health care and protection from harassment, as unpaid positions are increasingly replacing real jobs and entry level employment, said the organisers.

Political leaders have also lent their support with European Parliament member Terry Reintke, representing a group of over 100 politicians, declaring "we want to ban unpaid internships from all EU institutions, we very strongly support the global intern strikes".

The movement scored a victory even before their day of action after the EU Ombudsman announced a ruling against the use of hundreds of unpaid interns within EU institutions, said a PSI statement.

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Unpaid internships are mostly associated with public affairs, government, finance and media sectors, but their prevalence is spilling over to other sectors across the globe.

Said PSI: "Last November, students in Italy occupied a McDonald's after the government and big-businesses created a programme that forced high-school students to take part in 'work experience' programmes 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 there are over three million young people working as unpaid interns in Europe alone each year, amounting to the entire workforce of Denmark, it added.

chenj@sph.com.sg

Read also: Abused intern: I was treated like cheap labour

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