Yesterday I took part in a demonstration organized by the Geneva Interns Association’s Pay Your Interns Initiative. Interns make up a bulk of the UN’s workforce but are marginalized by not being paid. The same applies to those that comprise the alleged ‘affiliated workforce’ (consultants and others given sub-par contracts that lack the benefits of those with full UN staff contracts) but at least they receive some remuneration for their work. I was once an intern and therefore ‘unseen’ so this resonates with me deeply; even though I’ve always been against engaging in unpaid work, I felt that I had to make the sacrifice to get my foot in the door. Luckily, after six months of unpaid work, I came out with a paid position but most are not so ‘fortunate’. I hope that someday very soon we can look back and say, “Wow, was that even a thing?”
What is baffling to me is just how little people care about this issue, even those who like myself began as interns and graduated to paid positions, or how others completely reject the idea that interns should be paid at all, arguing that in exchange for their work they receive ‘valuable work experience’. However, this is not always the case, especially for those who have neglectful supervisors that make them fetch coffee or make copies all day. What’s valuable in that experience? It is simply demeaning. It pains me to think that this is widely acceptable practice but I hope that through demonstrations like these and other public awareness-raising events, more attention can be drawn to the issue and, eventually, the UN – and other organizations around the world – can own up to this sham practice.