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4th Feb 2023

'No pay, no way,' said the young Europeans. Now what?

  • The EU Commission has just reviewed its own Quality Framework for Traineeships, from 2014 (Photo: Pixabay)
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One issue still stands out in the Eurostat figures after 2022 was the so-called European Year of Youth: the average unemployment rate among 15-24-year-olds stands at 15 percent.

The differences between member states are striking. Spain and Greece have double this figure, while in Germany and the Netherlands, youth unemployment is between six and eight percent, respectively. The rate of those who neither study nor work (NEETs) is two percentage points lower.

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These are some of the factors that have led the EU Commission to consider there is room for improvement in the EU-27's quality framework for traineeships (QFT), nine years on from the 2014 Council recommendation containing 21 principles to ensure that apprenticeships improve young people's employability and act as an entry point to the labour market.

For now, that's as far as it goes. The EU executive's review on a quality framework for traineeships (QFT), published this week, does not include any policy recommendations, nor does it say what kind of initiative —legislative or not — it will take to strengthen the implementation of this framework, the European Trade Union Confederation told EUobserver, calling the document as "insufficient".

"At some parts, it's even written there should be further assessment of this review to see if there should be an initiative or not, which was exactly the goal of this revision," pointed out Ludovic Voet, confederal secretary in charge of the youth dossier.

"Quality criteria in this framework fall short, especially around fair remuneration and access to social protection,' said European Youth Forum president María Rodríguez. According to the 2015 Eurobarometer, only 40 percent of respondents received compensation for their traineeships, of which less than half could afford basic living costs.

Alicia Homs, a Spanish MEP in the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, is one of the shadow rapporteurs working on a report on the quality of traineeships in the EU aimed at boosting the European Commission's actions in this area. "If we want to retain talent, we have to improve working conditions, so young people do not leave for other countries with better conditions," she told EUobserver.

The legal instrument to achieve this must be a directive, ensuring a unified framework for all EU member states. She agrees with youth associations and trade unions.

"The idea behind it is for traineeships to be a transition to the labour market, not for young people to be doing traineeships until they are 30 years old," she said.

In order to stop unfair practices between member states, Ludovic proposes using the minimum wage directive as a basis for creating similar conditions to ensure a quality labour market for young people.

The goal is to avoid a carousel effect (chaining one traineeship after another), which is often linked to the abuse by some companies of the trainee concept. Hiring a young graduate who does not have to be paid the minimum wage is more cost-effective than paying for a long-term contract, says Voet.

In a recent interview, Monica Semedo (Renew Europe), the rapporteur of the European parliament's report, said the purpose of the report is to ensure "good working conditions, useful learning experience, and remuneration for all trainees".

One of the most visible signs of this struggle has been the campaign for a ban on unpaid internships, which has already accumulated more than 4,000 signatures on Change.org. In November, a group of young people, supported by MEPs, NGOs, and other activists, protested in the streets of Brussels.

Their cries are not new, they say. Year after year, new slogans are added: "No pay, no way". "References don't pay bills". Now tired of it, they now look to the EU institutions.

"We are in constant dialogue with the commission and the parliament," says Rodriguez. "Now we are asking them to have the ambition to solve this problem of young people in Europe".

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