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5th Mar 2024

Report reveals costs and biases of EU 'unpaid traineeships'

  • Traineeships are designed to serve as a trampoline into the labour market (Photo: Unsplash)
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Equal opportunities, wallets, and health are the big casualties when a trainee is not paid for his/her work.

This is the conclusion of a report published on Monday (16 January) by the European Youth Forum (EYF), an advocacy group representing more than 100 youth organisations.

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Have you ever wondered how much it costs an intern to subsist on an unpaid traineeship? EYF has calculated it and the figure comes to €1,028 per month, including housing, transport, health, food, leisure, and clothing costs.

This is a European average, and so in some more expensive countries trainees could hardly pay the rent with this estimate. In Luxembourg, for example, it would take more than €1,800 to get by on the "ramen-noodles only" budget, as the youth group calls it. In Denmark, it is similar (€1,712).

Another way to look at it: 11 out of 27 member states have a basic monthly cost-of-living above €1,000.

Traineeships are designed to serve as a trampoline to the labour market. However, unpaid internships "reduce social mobility, because depending on the socio-economic level of your family, you will have more or less difficulty in accessing the labour market," María Rodríguez, president of the EYF, told EuObserver.

There are three options. Either your family or friends can help you financially, or you have a considerable amount of savings, or you study and work at the same time to make ends meet, since another of the costs associated with these practices is the loss of a potential monthly income.

Yet the survey conducted by the European Youth Forum makes it clear: young people in households with the lowest economic standing are eight times less likely to be able to afford to take up such opportunities.

According to Eurostat, this includes migrants, people with disabilities, people living in single-parent households, those with lower levels of education, or those who do not live with their parents.

Nevertheless, not all costs are visible. "There are young people who have to work even more hours than what is legal in the EU [European Working Time Directive], which causes them stress and impacts on their own self-esteem and value as a person," says Rodriguez.

These findings come from the EYF survey of people from different geographical and socio-economic backgrounds. One that also captures some of their responses.

"Sometimes you are treated as if you are not a human and have to do menial tasks which do not contribute to your overall career development or life skills, like personal tasks such as making tea for your boss or licking envelopes," says one of the respondents.

That also raises the question of to what extent all these costs result in better job opportunities for young people's future.

According to a 2018 study by the International Labour Organization, it depends on the type of traineeship. "Paid internships are associated with better post-internship labour market outcomes in the short-run than unpaid ones". The same applies to more structured and organised internships, i.e. those with a mentor, access to health insurance, or similar working conditions to regular employees.

Belgium is working on improving labour inspections, Spain is in the final stages of drafting a trainee statute, and Cyprus and Portugal are also moving towards improving the quality of traineeships, according to the EYF president.

At EU institutional level, the European parliament and EU Commission are proceeding with reports and reviews of the existing frameworks.

Meanwhile, young people from groups at higher risk of poverty or social exclusion will have fewer opportunities to access the labour market. "This an issue of indirect discrimination, unfairly limiting the access that young people from marginalised social backgrounds have to any specific unpaid internship opportunity", states the discussion paper.

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