This week 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Geneva pledged to pay their interns. After various campaigns pushing for change like the “Pay your interns” initiative, or the media stunt by New Zealand intern David Hyde, who camped on the shore of Lake Geneva to highlight the issue, NGOs in Geneva have heard these calls and are now taking action.
The charter, signed by 27 organisations, recognises the primary purpose of internships: a chance to acquire knowledge and experience, while setting a minimum stipend of CHF 500 per month for a full time position.
- Unpaid intern in tent tells story (Le News)
- Why are UN Geneva interns not paid? (Le News)
The 27 organisations committed to following the charter can be found here. The list of signatories is short compared to the total number of NGOs in Geneva. The website Genève International lists over 200 NGOs operating in the Geneva region. 27 represents less than one in seven. There are some organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), that pay interns but have not signed the charter.
Many of those fighting to be paid refer to part of the universal declaration of human rights which states that “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity.”
Pressure has been building around the world for more pay for interns working for NGOs. Last September, interns created a human chain outside the United Nations in New York to protest the issue. Those worst affected are interns from developing countries that often cannot survive without an income, effectively excluding them from work at global organisations often working principally on humanitarian activities in their home countries.
According to Swissinfo.ch, in an article from June 2015, “a handful of UN agencies in Geneva like the International Labour Organisation (ILO) pay interns – the ILO pays CHF1,850 per month since 2011 – they are a minority.”
The ILO hasn’t always paid its interns according to Ian Richards, who heads the UN staff trade union in Geneva. In a BBC interview last year he says “A few years ago at the International Labour Organisation, they found an intern sleeping in the basement. That created a lot of noise in the press and, as a result, the ILO decided to pay its interns.”
An EU-wide study by the European Commission in 2013 showed that 59% of interns were not paid.
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The article implies or just outright states these organisations did not pay their interns before and are now doing so because of the pressure. How imprecise, unfair and sloppy. I suggest an update to the article.
Look at it from the employer’s perspective. Do you really want to pay a big salary to someone with no (or hardly any) relevant work experience? These NGOs (or other big companies) can get away with not paying their interns, because their well-known organizations on a resume are already a future financial reward in itself.
Small companies however have to pay their interns a small amount to be able to attract them. That, plus the social charges, plus the time spent training the intern (another resource’s time and the intern not yet being productive) is a big cost for a company. It needs to be a win-win situation; the intern learning and the company being able to financially benefit from the resource.
If the big companies and NGOs start paying their interns, small companies will not be able to hire interns anymore, as they will need to up their salaries to be able to attract quality students. This would make it more interesting to hire an employee who would have already been trained elsewhere instead. Or not hire any FTE at all and just outsource.
I think we all need to remember that the goal of an internship is to gain valuable work exeprience which can be used later to then get an interesting job and earn a living.
Obviously if an intern is just making coffee and not getting paid, that’s problematic. But I would hope they were learning from their internships.
If these interns need the money to live in Geneva, why not do a part-time internship and do a student job the remaining time?
Steve Johnstone says
rather than publish a list of the who do pay, what about posting the list that don’t. Name and shame, or do you not pay interns either?
Le News says
Here is a list (link in article) to a list of the main NGOs in Geneva: http://www.geneve-int.ch/categories/non-governmental-organizations