Germany: Real Work for No Money

March 31, 2008

A mentioned before here, Germany is tackling the issue of unfair internships at the government level more seriously than any other country at the moment. Frankly, this article could have been written by yours truly.

I think what’s most important in the German approach is that it recognizes that interns are doing real work. There’s still a perception in some other countries, especially the US, that interns are making photocopies and coffee while it’s an old cliché.

New debate has broken out about German companies using interns who are poorly paid, if they’re paid at all, to do work that once was done by full-time staff.

The German Minister of Labour:

“Internships are useful, but there’s been some abuse and we have to do something about it,” he told reporters.

The government may be acting because of the severity of the problem there:

“There’s a general culture of doing more and more internships and it’s very problematic,” said former intern Neye. “Employers see you after you’ve finished your degree these days and say ‘why have you only done five internships and not 10?'”

A reasonable proposal:

Rudolf of the DGB trade union group wants to see a three-month time limit placed on internships, pay requirements, and a clear understanding of what an internship is. It should be a learning relationship with a company, not a pure work relationship. If the firm wants that, they should go out and hire somebody, he said.

Let’s hope other countries will take the problem seriously.