European Parliament calls for ban on unpaid internships

shutterstock_103487192 [Shutterstock/Artens]

With youth unemployment on the rise across the EU, and aggravated further by the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU lawmakers called upon the European Commission and member states last week to increase their support for young people in precarious working conditions.

In a resolution adopted on Thursday (8 October) with 574 votes to 77 and 43 abstentions, EU lawmakers urged member states to ensure that young people who enrol for the Youth Guarantee schemes are offered “good-quality, varied and tailored job, training, apprenticeship or internship offers, including fair remuneration”.

The text condemns the practice of unpaid internship as “a form of exploitation of young people’s work and a violation of their rights.”

“This battle against unpaid internships has been going on for a long time. For too long we have got used to unpaid traineeships but this has got to change,” European Parliament President David Sassoli told reporters last week, addressing concerns about a large number of unpaid interns and trainees working in EU institutions and across Europe.

MEP  Brando Benifei (S&D) told reporters that “the European Parliament is now leading by example, and unpaid internships are illegal in the House. What we want now is for this to be replicated across the EU so that, once and for all, we rid ourselves of the problem of unpaid interns”.

Sassoli said the youth guarantee “is an important tool and sends out a message that interns deserve a decent wage”.

The Parliament’s call comes as the Council of 27 member states is expected to adopt the European Commission’s proposal on the Reinforced Youth Guarantee in the next few weeks.

With the youth unemployment rate at 17.6% in the EU in August 2020, EU lawmakers also called for more funds to strengthen the Youth Guarantee scheme for 2021-2027 in their resolution.

The Youth Guarantee was introduced in 2013 as youth unemployment soared above 50% in some member states, especially in southern Europe.

European trade unions announced they are backing the European Parliament’s call on the Commission to ban unpaid internships and invest in quality jobs for young people.

Commenting on the decisions, the European Youth Forum (EYF) said: “We call on the member states to follow the European Parliament’s lead and uphold youth rights by making unpaid internships a thing of the past and introducing binding quality standards for the Youth Guarantee”.

With the Reinforced Youth Guarantee, presented in July, the Commission proposed to extend its coverage to include young people under 30 and aiming to support more people to make the green and digital transitions.

However, according to many stakeholders, this fell short of expectations, focusing on further training rather than real employment, and with few quality criteria demanded by trade unions and civil society groups.

The International Labour Organisation said back then that “in many instances, resource allocations have not been sufficient to match the recommendations.”

“With youth unemployment rising more sharply now than after the financial crash, it’s crucial that the EU learns from past mistakes by offering young people quality jobs and real legal protection from exploitation,” said Ludovic Voet, confederal secretary of ETUC [European Trade Union Confederation].

In their resolution, MEPs also included a series of recommendations to member states that would put the rights of interns and trainees “at the centre of the discussion.”

According to the text, the Commission and member states are called upon to propose “a common legal instrument” which would “ensure and enforce fair remuneration for internships, traineeships and apprenticeships in the EU’s labour market.”

They also criticized EU countries for significantly reducing from 15% to 10% the European Social Fund  + (ESF+) resources, meant to boost youth employment across the bloc.

Commissioner Schmit: EU must stop rise of low-quality jobs in wake of pandemic

While impacting all parts of the economy, COVID-19 has hit young people particularly hard. Nicolas Schmit, the Commissioner for jobs and social rights, spoke with EURACTIV about the EU executive’s efforts to address these challenges and avert the prospect of another ‘lost generation.’

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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