France’s ministers for Labour and Higher Education have come together to propose a new law protecting low-paid student interns from being abused by unscrupulous French employers.
Legislation passed in 2009 and 2011 did call for limits on how businesses could use interns, and for how long, but a dire lack of enforcement has caused Labour Minister Michel Sapin and Higher Education Minister Geneviève Fioraso to propose these stricter measures.
The law should be in place “by the end of this year,” according to Fioraso. Here’s what it means:
1. Six-month cap. The Cherpion law of 2011 banned internships of more than six months at the same company in the same school year, but was never properly enforced.
The new proposals would do that.
2. A quota of interns. “We’re going to introduce a quota, whereby the number of interns at a company can’t go above a certain proportion [of workers],” Fioraso told Le Parisien on Monday.
The exact proportion remains to be settled on, but could be around 10 percent. “It’s unacceptable when interns represent 20 percent of workers at a company. Internships cannot be just a replacement for a temporary contract,” she added.
3. No more ‘phantom students.’ The new law proposes that anyone with a university degree cannot get a student internship.
This is designed to counter the recent phenomenon of recent graduates re-enrolling for arbitrary college courses, solely for the purpose of starting an internship and advancing their careers, what news website Rue 89 calls ‘phantom students.’
4. A stop to the conveyor belt of interns. Sapin and Fioraso’s proposed law would properly enforce a measure, from the 2011 legislation, which aimed to stop the constant, rolling recruitment of interns by companies.
In order to minimize abuses, and prevent employers from effectively using interns as low-paid employees, French law requires a significant gap between hiring interns.
That means that once one internship ends, a company must wait at least a third of the duration of that internship, before hiring another. Six-month internship, two-month gap. That’s the cycle which the new law would enforce.
5. Better protection against workplace abuses.
Because, technically, interns’ working conditions are governed by “unclear” workplace conventions, rather than French employment law, according to minister Sapin, interns are more open to abuse.
“We have problems with [interns] working at night, on weekends, and on public holidays,” Sapin told Le Parisien on Monday.
Furthermore, interns don’t have the same legal protection against harassment that those with a CDI or CDD do.
Fioraso and Sapin’s law would change that.
What to watch out for as an intern
Unpaid work. While in most cases a company must pay you at the very least €436 a month, be aware that internships that last less than two months can be unpaid, says Vincent Laurent from interns’ rights group Generation Precaire.
Guidance and training. “Within the company, somebody must be designated to guide and train and follow you,” says Laurent. So find out who that person is, and make sure they’re helping you.
Repeat offenders. When it comes to abusing interns as low-paid workers, rather than helping them explore their career options, some industries are worse than others, from Laurent’s experience.
“Media, communications, advertising, marketing and banks – those sectors abuse interns the most,” he says.
Consider an apprenticeship. These are available in fewer industries, but you never know. Insurance companies, for example, have increasingly turned to apprentices over interns, according to Laurent. “You are considered part of the work force with an apprenticeship, so you have more rights, and the money is better,” he adds.