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France's 1.6m interns set to get a better deal

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France's 1.6m interns set to get a better deal
A French new law may finally give interns similar benefits to employees. Photo: Partrick Kovarik/AFP
17:21 CET+01:00
Interns in France are often known for getting a rough deal but things could soon change after French MPs on Tuesday approved a raft of measures aimed at improving their working conditions, including guaranteed pay, paid holidays and restaurant vouchers.

Despite conservative opposition, lawmakers in France’s National Assembly passed a bill on Tuesday that would guarantee remuneration, legal protections and limit the use of the hundreds of thousands of interns who toil away in French companies each year, often with no hope of landing a job.

Here are highlights from the new bill:

  • Entitlement to the same benefits as employees: Interns wouldn’t be allowed to work longer hours than employees and they cannot be assigned to "dangerous" tasks. Interns would also be entitled to meal vouchers, paid holidays (vacation) and subsidies towards the cost of taking public transport to work.
  • Interns to be paid: Pay would be mandatory for any internship exceeding two months. Once the two-month limit is breached the intern would also be entitled to retroactive pay going back to the first day of the internship.
  • Labour laws strengthened: The legislation would extend the powers of French labor inspectors who are tasked with identifying and punishing companies that use internships for essentially undeclared jobs. Another provision would shorten to one month the deadline for France’s labour court to decide if an intern status should be converted to that of an employee.
  • Limited number of interns: The bill would set a limit on the number of interns that would be calculated according to the number of employees at a company. The ratio would be set by France’s highest administrative court, the Conseil d’Etat (state council), and is expected to be 10 percent of the company’s workforce. Violations of the limit could be punished with fines.

Tuesday's vote, which went along party lines, saw a leftist coalition push the legislation though. It was strongly oppsoed, however, by conservatives in the UMP party and France’s business leaders’ union MEDEF, which objected on the grounds it will add to “management costs.” 

The UMP argues the bill if it becomes law, will lead to a "copy-paste" of the status of an intern onto that of paid employees and the highly "restrictive nature" of the bill will simply result is less internships being made available to youngsters, French website Challenges reported.

On the other side of the fence, French watchdog group, Génération Précaire, which advocates for better conditions for interns, also slammed the bill for not going far enough.

In a tweet the group denounced those behind the proposed law for "refusing to improve the situation for interns."

Interns rights have increasingly been pushed to the forefront as the use of stagiares, as they are known in France,  has exploded in French companies.

According to government figures there were around 600,000 internships across the country in 2006, but by last year the number had jumped to 1.6 million. The steep jump has been ascribed mainly to internships becoming required parts of high school and university education.

Despite four previous attempts since 2006 to craft laws that protect interns, necessary legal protections are still lacking. Some companies use "interns as substitutes for employees," a phenomenon that affects some 100,000 people, Socialist MP Chaynesse Khirouni told French paper Metro News.

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

 

The bill is expected to go before senators this summer, where the Socialist party only have a thin majority.

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