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26th Feb 2024

MEPs agree to ban unpaid EU traineeships

  • 'Traineeships are replacing entry-level jobs,' warned Mark McNulty of the European Youth Forum (Photo: Unsplash)
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Adequate remuneration, social protection and clear learning objectives are the minimum standards that young European trainees should enjoy, MEPs agreed in Strasbourg on Monday (8 May).

The European Parliament's employment committee adopted the report (36 votes in favour, three against and four abstentions) on quality traineeships in the EU, calling on the EU Commission to introduce a binding regulation to put an end to unpaid traineeships and to guarantee decent working conditions, regardless of socio-economic background.

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"It is high time to stop abusing them [young Europeans] as cheap or free labour," said Alicia Homs (S&D), one of the leading MEPs on the file, in a statement after the vote.

The report adopted on Monday also includes good news for students who need such internships to obtain university credits. "With this decision, we would ensure that they have decent working conditions and access to social security for the time (limited to a maximum of six months) that they do these internships," Homs told EUobserver.

So far, only the EU Council recommendation of 2014 has been adopted. That is a framework that sets out 21 quality principles for placements, in order to achieve their aim of improving young people's employability and acting as a bridge to the labour market.

However, the recommendation is not legally binding on member states, which has since led to major differences (and shortcomings) between them.

"Traineeships are replacing entry-level jobs," warned Mark McNulty, board member of the European Youth Forum, following the publication of the latest Eurobarometer.

"Over half of the people surveyed had to take at least two internships, which means that the threshold for landing a paying job and entering the labour market keeps getting higher".

The Eurobarometer survey, which has not been carried out since 2013, also found that almost one in three young Europeans did not get work experience because of the lack of, or low, remuneration for these traineeships.

"This confirms that unpaid internships are deepening social inequalities between those who have financial means and those who do not," McNulty said.

Only about half of the respondents received some form of financial compensation for their traineeships — although the remuneration is not specified, so it could be as simple as paying for transport each month.

"[Traineeships] must be for everyone, which means they need to be paid in line with the minimum wage so trainees can make ends meet," commented European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) general secretary Ludovic Voet immediately after the report was adopted.

The European Youth Forum, an advocacy group representing more than 100 youth organisations, estimated earlier this year that the average cost of an unpaid traineeship is over €1,000, which is more than the basic monthly living costs in almost half of the member states.

"There are hardly any traineeship opportunities today that pay enough to cover monthly costs," the board member of the European Youth Forum added.

Remuneration is not the only aspect of European trainees' lives that is lacking. According to the latest Eurobarometer, only 33 percent of young people had full social security cover during these periods, which MEPs are calling for to be recognised as work experience.

The aim? To prevent these traineeships from being extended or prolonged to replace entry-level or full-time jobs. The report also states that these placements must have written agreements with learning and working objectives.

Before negotiations can begin with the council and the commission, the parliament must now approve the committee's position at its June plenary session.

Report reveals costs and biases of EU 'unpaid traineeships'

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," warns María Rodríguez, president of the European Youth Forum.

EU wants to end bogus internships, but not unpaid ones

The European Commission is preparing a proposal to improve the quality of internships in the EU. The initiative is expected in the first semester of 2024, but so far seems to focus more on ending bogus internships than unpaid internships.

New EU 'Youth Test' to check policies for 15-29 year olds

To date, existing measures to give young people a say in the policies that affect them have either been limited to areas such as culture or education, or have been designed for young people rather than with or by them.

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