Kiwi UN intern quits

  • 13/08/2015
Kiwi UN intern quits

The mother of a Kiwi who had been sleeping in a tent during an unpaid internship at the United Nations says the policy doesn't promote diversity in the organisation.

Vicky Hyde's son David, 22, has since quit the job following local news coverage which was picked up by international media, saying the attention made it difficult to carry on working there.

Mr Hyde's struggle to support himself in pricey Geneva was splashed across the front page of a local newspaper.

Pictures of him standing in an immaculate suit, UN entrance badge around his neck, next to a small, blue tent and rolled up foam mattress near the shores of Lake Geneva, caused outrage and an outpouring of offers of accommodation, according to the Tribune de Geneve, which broke the story.

But on Wednesday, Mr Hyde, unshaven and wearing a rumpled shirt, stood in the glaring sun outside the gates to the UN's European headquarters and told a handful of journalists he had decided to resign.

"It's my own decision and I chose to resign because I felt that it would be too difficult to continue to focus on my work as an intern at this stage," said Mr Hyde, who started his internship two weeks ago.

Speaking to the Tribune de Geneve, he described the excitement at home when he was accepted to the prestigious position, but said his family was unaware of his precarious situation in the Swiss city, where rents are among the highest in the world.

"I just want to make it clear that no person forced me to sleep in a tent, but rather my circumstances and the conditions for this internship made it the only real possibility that I could see," he told reporters on Wednesday.

He acknowledged lying during his internship interview when asked whether he would be able to support himself during his stay in Geneva.

But he said he had previously answered that question truthfully and had found all doors closed to him.

"The UN was clear about their intern policy from the start: No wage or stipend, no transport help, no food allowance, no health assistance. I understood this, and in that regard, I have to take responsibility for taking the internship in the first place," he said.

But Mr Hyde said that knowing the policies did not make them right.

"I do not feel that this is a fair system," he said, urging interns worldwide to "push for the recognition of our value and the equal rights that we deserve."

His mother, who lives in Christchurch, says her son had previously worked hard to save money to get to Europe and had lived a "frugal life".

"So I guess he assumed that even if he didn't have full financial underpinning to go and take the UN job he'd be able to eke it out somehow.

"But I think the thing which got to him was seeing there are almost a couple of hundred young people in the same situation as him in Geneva who are, I think, being exploited frankly," she says.

Ms Hyde believes the organisation should stand for equal opportunity, but is limiting itself because of the unpaid internship policy.

"By requiring people to put themselves up for six months then putting a restraint of trade on them, they're probably really limiting the diversity of people who are there."

She says her son was probably lucky it is summer in Geneva which would allow him to camp out each night.

As a mother, she was worried for him and hoped it wouldn't restrict future job opportunities: "I mean, a BA isn't that well regarded at the best of times".

As a citizen though, she was proud he'd highlighted, albeit inadvertently, the issue.

She called on New Zealand to put forward a resolution which would have the UN pay their interns.

A member of the organisation Generation Precarious, located in neighbouring France, voiced outrage at Mr Hyde's case, insisting the UN should lead by example.

"They cannot allow there to be this discrepancy between what they say (on labour rights) and what they do," he told AFP.

UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, with three of his own interns in tow, spontaneously addressed the story during a weekly UN briefing on Tuesday, insisting to reporters that the world body was barred from paying interns by a General Assembly resolution.

"We're not allowed to even if we want to, and believe me we want to. We would welcome a change to that resolution," he said, urging UN member states to put forward a new resolution making the old one redundant.

3 News/AFP