Unions and businesses join forces on youth unemployment

youth unemployment - socialist party website.jpg

European unions and businesses have released a series of proposals to fight the EU’s "dangerous" levels of youth employment, but concrete results may prove hard to measure.

In Brussels, the European trade union confederation (ETUC) and the employer association BusinessEurope released yesterday (11 June) a list of short and long-term recommendations for governments and the European institutions, whose inability to combat its high youth unemployment has fanned social unrest and sparked riots during the crisis.

The public services employment group CEEP and small and medium sized enterprises association UEAPME also helped to draft the measures, warning that a lack of opportunities for 25-year-olds now threatens the European Union’s social fabric. EU youth joblessness stands at 23.5% according to the latest Eurostat figures.

The measures proposed by the social partners include youth guarantees, a more flexible labour market, fostering entrepreneurship, and more and better work-based education and training to supply employers with skilled young workers.

Bernadette Ségol, ETUC’s general secretary, said: “The level of precariousness is dangerous for social cohesion. Even those that have a job, it’s too often in contractual insecurity, which does not allow them to look to the future with serenity.”

“It has a huge effect on their day to day life. They are dependent on their parents, even their grandparents. It is difficult for them to find housing. It creates delay in the construction of their personal life,” she told reporters.

But the social partners would not be drawn on concrete targets, with Ségol saying: "The quantitive objective of any social partner is full employment. We are not happy with 12% unemployment."

In recent weeks the European institutions have also upped communication of their youth jobs strategy, issuing on 29 May proposals for a youth guarantee, vocational training and apprenticeships under the European Semester programme.

László Andor, the commissioner for employment and social affairs, said last week: “Stepping up the number of apprenticeships and traineeships will increase opportunities for young people, and raising their vocational skills is an attractive alternative to academic education."

Deep reforms

The social partners will also lobby governments to enact the deep structural reforms, as well as short term measures, they say are needed to boost the prospects of young people.

“We have found a good balance between the short term measures, which are absolutely necessary, and the long term measures,” said Markus Beyrer, the director general of BusinessEurope. “But from our perspective it was very important to tackle the structural problems. Many of the problems of the crisis are going much deeper than the lack of demand and the lack of economic growth.”

But to CEEP’s social affairs manager, Andreas Persson, deep reforms will take time and government-level persistence. “Change in education systems will not help in the short term.”

Beyrer said a change in education systems into more work-based learning and greater employment flexibility “would most sustainably improve the situation for young jobseekers”.

But Berer had to deflect claims his organisation supported a US-style “hire and fire” culture.

“We see a clear link between flexibility and precarity. We see a clear link between rigid labour markets and high unemployment,” he said. “Hiring and firing is part of it but not all. Some employers in rigid labour markets sometimes prefer not to hire and to reduce their activity.”

Funding

In the recommendations, the social partners refer little to sources of funding, most of which would have to come from the EU, international funds like the European Investment Fund, and member states’ treasuries.

EU heads of states agreed in February to launch the €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative, with the aim of making it fully operational by 1 January 2014.

The EU’s European Social Fund contains €1.3 million in assistance to set up apprenticeship schemes. The EU executive has asked governments to contribute a further 10% funding increase to establish some 370,000 new apprenticeship placements by the end of 2013.

EU countries can also claim their slice of a €4 million youth guarantee to get young people into employment, further education or training within four months of leaving school.

The social partners intend to release three annual reports in the coming years evaluating the impact of employment measures both on employers and workers, with a final report in four years. It will then decide on the necessity further action and recommendations.

In the EU 66% of all enterprises with ten or more employees provided vocational training to their staff in 2010, compared with 60% in 2005. The highest proportions were in Austria and Sweden (both 87%) and the lowest in Poland (23%) and Romania (24%), according to Eurostat.

Liliane Volozinskis, social affairs director at UEAPME, an organisation representing small businesses, said the report "highlights the real problems that businesses and young people are facing on a daily basis." She called for "guidance and information for young people to make the right educational choices, also to fill demand for small businesses."

EU heads of states agreed in February to launch a €6 billion Youth Employment Initiative, with the aim of making it fully operational by 1 January 2014.

A Youth Guarantee scheme, introduced by each EU country according to its individual need, will apply to young people who are out of work for more than four months. It aims to give them a real chance to further their education, or get a job, apprenticeship or traineeship.

The EU has a 2020 target of 75% employment for the working-age population (20-64 years).

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