Interview by: Monica Tinelli
Interview with Cristina Bermejo Toro, Confederal Secretary of the youth section of Comisiones Obreras (CCOO) Madrid, the number one Spanish Trade Union in terms of number of members and delegates elected in the union elections.
The youth section of this Union is pursuing actions and campaigns not only by promoting social conditions and decent work for young people but also with the improvement of areas such as health, education, environment, drug addiction, young migrants, disabled or excluded.Being an active part in supporting the rights of young people, participating in both the Spanish Youth Council and in the boards at regional and local levels, the CCOO has recently published investigations on the conditions of the internships in Spain emphasizing the critical points and promoting demands for changes in the fight against the exploitation of young workers.
What purpose do you think internships should serve?
The aim of internships should be, first, contacting students with the labor market. But placements should always have a formative character, alternating with the theoretical studies in college or vocational school (= vocational training).
In many European countries legal regulations for internships are often non-existent or extremely limited. Why do you think this is? In your experience, is this leading to a possible misuse of the practice of internships?
In Spain legal regulation is virtually nonexistent. There are only some cooperation agreements between companies and universities, but the conditions governing them are minimal. There is no general law and this has led to a misuse of the practices, because in many cases become the formula for doing legal contracts.
Do you see a need for greater legal safeguards and labour rights for interns? What are your proposals to improve the situation of interns?
It is absolutely necessary to regulate the conditions of development practices.
Our proposals are:
a) There should be a collaboration agreement from the school with businesses (eg in Spain, many companies offer internships unilaterally, without learning centres);
b) The practices must be performed by students who are in training, not by people who have already obtained the degree (to them and they can make contracts.);
c) The partnership should pick up conditions such as training program, day and hour, maximum of practices, financial aid (not wages), insurance, etc. Practices should never be an employment relationship;
d) Trainees must be supervised by a tutor in the company and the other in their school, who ensure that the conditions of the agreement;
e) Trainees within the educational process, should be aware of safety and occupational health of the company (health & safety);
f) The representation of workers or the union in the company must report the number of trainees and what functions do, to make sure they do not replace the functions of other workers.
In July 2010 the European Parliament passed a resolution demanding the Commission to provide a study of internships in Europe, and come up with some proposals to improve the legislative environment. Do you see a possible role for European institutions in improving the legislation regarding internships in Europe?
The European institutions have an obligation to at least establish a basic regulatory practices, as it is a phenomenon that is occurring throughout Europe and in many cases, in situations of fraud and as a form of sub-contracting.
What do you think of the proposal to set up up a European Mark of Quality for internships, guaranteeing that internships offered are effectively formative and non-exploitative? Should or could this mark be binding, with companies not fulfilling minimum standards unable to advertise for internships for a certain period of time?
Regulation at European level should be aimed at ensuring the quality of practice, considering them as a formative process and not as a form of exploitation of young workers. Therefore, they must also consider ways to penalize companies that do not meet quality standards.
What do you think of proposals to develop a minimum retribution based on local living cost standards? Who should bear the cost for this?
Establish a minimum wage is the same as setting a salary. To do this, for example in Spain, and there are contracts for young people within the labor laws that involve a pay cut, but with all the guarantees of social protection. Practices must not nullify these forms of contract with lower pay and no social protection. Therefore, trainees should receive financial assistance for their studies on transportation, meals or lodging, but not as a salary.