French students on work experience are threatening to strike next week, claiming they are exploited by employers who use them as a substitute for paid workers.
Most private companies and public organisations offer placements to students ( stagiaires ). According to the Agence pour la Promotion et L'emploi des Cadres, 90 per cent of graduates in 2004 who had completed at least four years' higher studies had undertaken one or more work placements. Only 8 per cent of those in employment had been recruited as a result of a placement.
Stagiaires have no status under French employment law, though a 1978 decree stipulates that if their remuneration does not exceed 30 per cent of the legal minimum wage, companies are exempt from social security charges.
Postgraduate stagiaires complain that many firms take advantage of the vast pool of qualified young people who fill skilled positions but have no job security and receive meagre pay.
"To get round employment law, companies resort to a workforce that is disposable, virtually free and motivated - stagiaires ," said action group Génération Précaire, which organised a demonstration in the streets of Paris. Many of the demonstrators wore white masks to preserve anonymity.
The group claims it has had a great response from students since it was formed through the internet in September. A petition it launched for a statute for stagiaires , a minimum, indexed rate of pay and proper supervision attracted 8,000 signatories.