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Brussels interns join global protest as EU watchdog slams unpaid internships


  • Protests around the world on 20 February.
  • 100 attend Brussels protest; MEP Terry Reintke speaks; 150 march in Geneva.
  • 1 year of JUST PAY! campaign from Brussels Interns NGO.
  • EU Institutions take on hundreds of unpaid interns every year.
  • EU Ombudsman rules against unpaid internships in EU External Action Service.

20 February 2017 saw the first ever Global Intern Strike, organised by the Global Intern Coalition. Young workers across the world are set to come together and show their united opposition to exploitative and exclusionary unpaid internships.

The Global Intern Strike is a decentralised series of events, organised by local groups in cities including Vienna, Geneva, Washington DC and Brussels. Actions include protests, walkouts and marches, political panels and academic debates. Our supporters include political leaders, trade unions, lawyers, academics, NGOs like the European Youth Forum, and individual Europeans. See full list of supporters.

We are calling for: equal access to fair, quality internships.

- Equality: Internships need to be paid so that they are accessible to all.

- Fairness: Interns must have basic employment rights and reasonable working conditions.

- Quality: Internships should offer meaningful learning that helps young people successfully transition from education to employment.

Here in Brussels, 100 gathered in front of the European Commission, demanding action on 3 issues:

1. Un(der)paid internships inside the EU Institutions. The EU claims to want the best for young Europeans. Initiatives include the Youth Guarantee, a Council Recommendation on quality internships, and a recent European Parliament declaration that unpaid internships should be banned.

But it is hard to miss the hypocrisy:

  • On Friday 17 February, the European External Action Service was sharply criticised by the Ombudsman for employing nearly 800 unpaid interns.
  • The European Commission has 200 unpaid trainees at any one time .
  • A survey by the European Parliament’s Youth Intergroup shows that 1 in 3 interns in MEP offices is paid less than €600, while 1 in 10 is not paid at all.

2. Un(der)paid internships on the Belgian labour market. It is illegal to offer graduates unpaid work, but hundreds of young workers are still exploited every year. We estimate that the EU affairs sector takes around 8000 interns per year, and has an especially bad payment problem. Recent un(der)paying employers include media outlets, lobby groups and human rights organisations!

The Brussels Interns NGO launched the JustPay! campaign 1 year ago to monitor and pressure employers - supported by Jeunes FGTB (Belgian trade union) and Brussels MP Zoé Genot (Ecolo). See for info about the campaign and our more than 50 cases, many of which have led to improvements in practice.

3. Un(der)paid internships around the world.

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. Europe’s young people have carried the heaviest burden of an economic crisis they did not cause. Recovery is slow, and unpaid internships are not part of the solution:

  • They discriminate against people from poorer backgrounds and widen social inequalities.
  • They undermine the tax system and leave young workers without social security and protection at work.
  • They create a culture where employers do not train their staff, seeing no reason to invest in them.
  • This is bad for the whole economy, as skills are wasted and real jobs are replaced by precarious poor-quality internships.


(All text above this point quotable as Bryn Watkins, Managing Member, Brussels Interns NGO)

“Fair internships are the core priority for the Youth Intergroup. That is why we are running a campaign to ban unpaid internships from the EU institutions. It is unacceptable that young professionals are expected to work for no remuneration at all. Internships should be, paid and a quality learning opportunity young people. That is why we fully support the Global Intern Strike. Interns can count on the Youth Intergroup to stand up for their rights in the European Parliament.”   

-       Terry Reintke MEP, Co-Chair of the European Parliament Youth Intergroup

“We don’t just have a lack of jobs, but when you find one, it is often with poor conditions. Today, 6 in 10 interns are unpaid and 4 in 10 don’t even have a contract. Precarious jobs are overtaking steady ones also for the rest, as many are caught in a trap, going from internship to another. If this is not exploitation, then what? We need quality standards and quality job creation right now.”

-       Allan Päll, Secretary General of the Youth Forum:

 “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!”

-       Rosa Pavanelli, Public Services International Trade Union Federation


Bryn Watkins, Brussels Interns NGO

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

0032 (0)489 888 003

Further Info:

Global Intern Strike

Website of Global Intern Coaliton with declaration, full list of supporters and events around the world

Brussels Intern Strike

Facebook event with logistical information and specific demands

Brussels Interns NGO

Brussels Interns NGO campaign against unpaid internships

European Parliament Youth Intergroup

A group of MEPs running a campaign to ban unpaid internships in the European Parliament

European Youth Forum

The European Youth Forum is the platform of youth organisations in Europe. Independent, democratic, youth-led, it represents over 100 National Youth Councils and international youth organisations from across the continent.