Being an intern in Brussels: a long way

As many young people already know, being an intern in Brussels is not always an easy and comfortable life. Brussels Express gives you an insight of this long way towards employment.

Have you heard about the Global Intern Strike on Monday? A couple of dozens of interns, together with youth organisations, have actually gathered near Schuman to make their voice heard. Interns were also demonstrating in Geneva, Washington D.C. or Vienna. What was the point of that? Protesting against the unfair working conditions. It is indeed a big issue across Europe, and Brussels is no exception with this regard.

If you think about “internships in Brussels”, you probably think about traineeships in the EU institutions, and part of them are well-paid. But most of the young (and sometimes not that young!) people who take internships here do not have the chance to be provided with EUR 1,300 a month for 38 hours of work a week. “Three years ago, we gathered statistics from the transparency register as well as a questionnaire we had made, for 2013 and 2014. We have then concluded that there were about 8,000 trainees a year in Brussels. And 50% were unpaid”, Nuno Loureiro, co-founder of the Brussels Intern NGO (BINGO), told us. If you take into account all the ones who are not in the EU bubble, but also on the Belgian labour market, you realise that thousands of interns are unpaid and live in a precarious economic situation.

WE DEMAND EQUAL ACCESS TO FAIR, QUALITY INTERNSHIPS! #globalinternstrikeThanks to everyone that came to the Brussels…

Publié par Brussels Interns NGO sur lundi 20 février 2017

Why are there so many interns in Brussels? “This market is crowded and there are too many people with the same academic background”, Nuno explained. People are therefore used to taking two, three or four internships before having a real job opportunity. “I would say one year and half or two years are needed to get a job in Brussels”, Nuno added. “I actually took five internships, four of them after I graduated”, said Delphine, a former intern.

Besides this first concern, the other point is the way the interns are treated, especially when it comes to remuneration. The Belgian legal framework is not protective enough. The EU institutions, the lobbies, the NGOs and the private companies indeed have the opportunity to “hire” unpaid interns under volunteer contracts, which basically provide the trainees with EUR 7 a day for lunch and a monthly transportation subscription, which is of course not enough to live. Some interns therefore have to take additional jobs. “I had been working in a bar for two years, when I was enrolled for an internship in a Brussels-based think tank. I was supposed to be paid, but I was actually not, as the employers pretended they would have not complied with the Belgian law. I then asked to work as a part-time intern, and I used to keep on working as a waitress at night”, a former intern said. “I took two unpaid internships and one low-paid, below the poverty level. This is why I needed to work over the weekend, some nights and during holidays. I used to work in sales, and sometimes as a babysitter or waitress. My parents lent me money, and I am still paying back today. I however have no regret, although life was hard some months. I even forsook care”, Delphine added.

Although all the interns are not unpaid or under-paid, it is a major issue for most of the young people who come to Brussels every year to get a job, both on the EU or on the Belgian market. And this is why some organisations, such as BINGO, have been created few years ago. The European Youth Forum, InternsGoPro and the FGTB are also fighting for better traineeships and were involved in the strike on Monday.

In a press release all the organisations involved have published on 20 February 2017, they call for equality, fairness, and quality regarding the traineeships. They also call for paid internships in the EU institutions (if you do not know yet, the EU institutions also enrol unpaid interns) and on the Belgian labour market. This is probably the main challenge today.

In case you have forgotten, under the article 23 of the Charter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection”.