France set to beef up protection of interns

France has announced long-awaited plans to protect the rights of interns or ‘stagiaires,’ and stop French companies abusing low-paid university students. The Local brings you this breakdown of what the law means, and a campaigner's advice on what to watch out for as an intern.

France set to beef up protection of interns
“Media, communications, advertising, marketing and banks – those sectors abuse interns the most." New French law set to beef up protections for interns. Photo: Joshua Hoffman

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.’

SEE ALSO: The good and the bad of internships in France

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.

SEE ALSO: 10 Tips on finding work in France

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.

SEE ALSO: Studying in France – Everything you need to know

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.

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How to get a summer job in France

As the summer holidays approach in France, many employers are looking for seasonal workers - so if you're looking for a summer job, here's how to go about it.

How to get a summer job in France

There are thousands of employment offers in France – a simple internet search for jobs d’été came up with numerous jobs boards offering work in France, while the government-backed Centre d’Information et de Documentation pour la Jeunesse (CIDJ) offers advice and information on all aspects of life for young people in France, including finding seasonal work and summer placements.

Sectors including agriculture, hospitality and tourism are always recruiting in the summer, seeking fruit-pickers, holiday camp workers and serving/hotel staff.

But what are the rules for people seeking summer jobs?

READ ALSO Vendange: What you really sign up for when you agree to help with the French wine harvest


Children from the age of 16 (under certain circumstances, the age limit drops to 14) who are legally resident in France can work as long as they have written authorisation from their parents or legal guardians. A model authorisation letter is available here

Those under the age of 18 cannot undertake certain jobs for health and safety reasons.

In the following circumstances, children as young as 14 or 15 can work during school holidays.

  • The holidays must last at least 14 days;
  • The child must work no more than half the days of the holiday – so, if a vacation period is two weeks, they can work for no more than one of those weeks;
  • The child is given ‘light duties’ that offer no risk to their safety, health, or development;
  • From the age of 15 and if the child has completed their troisieme education, a minor can register for an apprenticeship. 


Salary is usually paid monthly and will have a payslip. For those aged 18 and over, pay will be at least equal to the minimum wage.

 For those aged 14 to 17, who have less than six months’ professional experience, the minimum allowed rate is 80 percent of the minimum wage. For those aged 17 to 18, the rate rises to a minimum of 90 percent of France’s minimum wage.

  • The minimum wage in France is currently €10.85 gross per hour (€1,645.58 gross per month based on a 35-hour week);
  • the employment contract is fixed-term and can take different forms (fixed-term contract, seasonal employment contract, temporary employment contract, etc);
  • Seasonal employees are subject to the same obligations as the other employees of the company and have access to the same benefits (canteens, breaks, etc.).

Under 18s have certain additional protections:

  • between the ages of 14 and 16, during school holidays, employees on any contract cannot work more than 35 hours per week nor more than 7 hours per day;
  • They cannot work at night;
  • Those aged 14 to under 16 working during their school holidays can only be assigned to work which is not likely to harm their safety, their health or development.

Right to work in France

If you’re a French citizen or hold permanent residency in France then you have the right to work, but for foreigners there are extra restrictions.

Anyone who holds the passport of a EU/EEA country or Switzerland, is free to work in France or to travel to France seeking work without needing a visa or work permit.

Most other people will need permission to work in France – even if it’s only for a short period or for casual work such as grape-picking. Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa – everything you need to know about that is here.

In addition to the visa, you may also need a work permit, which is the responsibility of the employer.  To employ anyone in France for less than 90 days, an employer must get a temporary work permit – before the prospective employee applies for a short stay visa. This permit is then sent to the embassy at which the employee is applying for a visa.

If you come from countries including the UK, USA and Canada you can spend up to 90 days in France without a visa – but you may still need a work (convention d’accueil) if you want to work while you are here.

READ ALSO Six official websites to know if you’re planning to work in France

Certain countries have specific ‘seasonal worker’ visas on offer, for certain sectors which allows – for example – Canadians to come to France and work the ski season. 

Cash-in-hand jobs

Certain sectors which have a lot of casual workers – for example seasonal fruit-picking – do have cash-in-hand jobs, known in France as marché noir (black market) or simply travail au black (working on the black, or working illegally). 

This is of course illegal and working this way carries risks – as well as the possibility of losing your job if labour inspectors turn up you are also in a vulnerable position. If your employer suddenly decides not to pay you, or make unexpected deductions from your wages, there is very little you can do about it since you won’t have any kind of work contract.