About 80 percent of respondents in a poll said they were not paid or insured under the Labor Standards Act (勞動基準法) when they worked as college interns, the Taiwan Higher Education Union youth action committee said yesterday.
The committee from May 19 to June 19 interviewed 387 people from 110 universities and colleges who had in the past five years worked as interns to fulfill credit requirements, committee member Tseng Fu-chuan (曾福全) told a news conference in Taipei.
The survey found that 80.3 percent of the respondents believed their internship entailed working as a formal employee at an institution or company, as their supervisor had control over their behavior and owned the goods they produced during the internship, committee member Chang Yu (張郁) said.
However, of those who should be categorized as formal employees, 67.1 percent did not receive any pay and 9.7 percent were paid less than the minimum wage, he said.
Furthermore, only 34.8 percent of the interns who should be categorized as formal employees were offered labor insurance by their employers as required by the Labor Standards Act, Chang said.
The poll found that 75.9 percent of paid interns worked more than eight hours per day and 50.4 percent of them did not receive overtime pay, he said.
“To make matters worse, 81 percent said their employer did not pay for their commute,” Chang added.
While exploitation of interns is common, only 37.7 percent of schools help students find alternative internships, committee member Lee Jung-yu (李容渝) said.
“When student interns are mistreated, they often cannot resign. To gain the credits required for graduation they must complete the internship no matter what. This in a way forces students to accept sub-par labor conditions,” she added.
The exploitation they face is doubled when the school continues to charge them tuition fees, despite them spending entire semesters working at companies or institutions without receiving proper wages or insurance, Lee said.
“Our survey found that as many as 64 percent of students were required to do a full-semester internship, while 30.7 percent had internships that lasted more than a school year,” she said.
For interns who work pro bono, long commutes between their place of work and school can further increase their financial burden, committee member Lin Yu-fang (林郁芳) said.
For example, a student said his daily commutes cost him NT$5,000 a month, Lin added.
The Ministry of Education in January unveiled a draft act to regulate student internships, which divides the interns into regular interns, who are not protected by the labor act, and work interns, who are protected by the law, Tseng said.
Instead of allowing the Ministry of Labor to determine what work should be categorized as formal employment and governed by the labor law, the education ministry has arbitrarily made that judgement by simply looking at whether a job is done for educational purposes, he said.
“Regular interns should be redefined as interns who do not work under the instructions of an employer, or replace formal employees at companies or institutions,” Tseng said.
The labor ministry should carry out inspections at companies and institutions that employ student interns to prevent their exploitation, he added.
In addition, schools should not charge tuition fees when students spend entire semesters working as interns, and internships should be shortened and only required in electives, Tseng said, adding that students should be allowed to choose the company or institution at which they want to work as an intern.
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