Strengthened regulation of internships
The recent ‘Cherpion’ Law strengthens existing measures and introduces requirements that offer more protection for French interns. The law necessitates the signing of a tripartite contract (between employer, intern and their educational establishment), limits the duration of internships, insists on a break between two interns in the same role, stipulates a monthly payment, increases the involvement of works councils and sets rules on probationary periods for subsequent employment.
Interns represent an affordable labour force for companies, providing employers with a cheap supply of highly qualified graduates. For the young people concerned, internships are indispensable in their transition to the higher end of the labour market. Regulating this arrangement in order to reduce potential abuse is difficult as there is a risk that internship opportunities for students could be curtailed.
Strengthened framework for interns
The so-called ‘Cherpion’ Law of 28 July 2011 introduces measures that strengthen the legal framework regulating internships. The new law states that internships:
- cannot consist of tasks that could be undertaken by a worker in a permanent position within the organisation;
- must be established through a tripartite contract signed by the employer, the intern and their educational establishment;
- must offer training to individuals and be integrated into the intern’s degree or other training.
This law does not include interns under 16 years of age or those undertaking professional training.
Limit on duration of internships
The new law limits the duration of an internship held by an individual in one company to six months per academic year. However, two exceptions could weaken this measure. An internship can last for more than six months:
- if the intern interrupts the internship to acquire skills in relation to their degree;
- when longer internships are part of the framework of a degree that is due to last several years.
Break between two interns in the same role
Organisations are allowed to introduce a new intern in the same role only after a break equivalent to a third of the length of the previous internship. This break is not compulsory should a previous intern decide to leave.
Under the new law, interns do not have the right to receive a wage but must be given a bonus by the organisation if their internship is more than two months in the same academic year. This does not have to be two consecutive months. The bonus is called a ‘gratification’. The amount is to be stated in the contract signed between the intern, the university (or training institute) and the organisation. The actual amount is defined by a sectoral agreement or extended professional agreement. If an internship lasts for less than two months, a bonus can be negotiated between the parties but is not mandatory.
Works councils to be informed about internships
In organisations with less than 300 employees, the annual report on their economic situation should mention the number of interns and their employment conditions. In such organisations, the works council has a compulsory right to be informed every quarter of the number of interns, their employment conditions and the tasks they undertake.
If the organisation decides to hire the intern within three months of the end of the internship, the length of the internship must be deducted from the probation period. The period deducted cannot be greater than 50% of the probation period (except in cases where more favourable terms are set by a collective agreement). However, the entire period of the internship must be deducted from the probationary period if the job for which the intern is hired corresponds to the same tasks they undertook as an intern. When the internship exceeds two months, the entire duration of the internship must be included when calculating the individual’s seniority rights.
Social partners have been arguing for a better organisation of internships for some years. They have highlighted that interns can be abused by being hired as a cheap qualified workforce and to provide greater flexibility for the employer. Interns are poorly paid – at most a third of the monthly minimum wage. In addition they are often motivated by the often misplaced hope of being taken on once they have completed the internship. Social partners have also stressed that, for some time, many workers on temporary contracts have been replaced by cheaper internships, particularly in sectors offering lucrative careers. This has had detrimental effects on employment.
This law contributes to the strengthening of the framework for internships in relation to matters such as the duration of internships, their financial arrangements and the tasks performed. However, the lack of monitoring by the educational establishment signing the compulsory tripartite contracts has led to fictitious university registrations. It is a well-established fact that some educational establishments abuse the system in providing such contracts for a large fee. There are also problems in enforcing the law stipulating that interns are not used as substitutes for permanent workers. The reluctance of the government to further tighten the regulation of internships arises partly from the fact that the youth unemployment rate in France is particularly high and therefore every individual intern represents one less unemployed person.
Sarah Mongourdin-Denoix, HERA