Unemployment in the eurozone is at its lowest rate for more than three years. Are the days of crisis and austerity finally behind us? Have we hit rock bottom? Surely things can only get better?
Well, it depends how old you are. Some workers are definitely feeling the benefits more than others; youth unemployment being twice as high as regular unemployment, and in some countries (such as Greece, Spain, and Italy) more than 40% of job seekers under the age of 25 are unable to find work.
But there are opportunities available for young people, as long as they are willing to work for free. In 2013, there were 4.5 million internships in Europe: 60% of them were unpaid; 40% didn’t even include a formal contract with employers; and over half (51%) of those interns who were paid said the amount was not sufficient to cover their basic living costs.
And some young people enjoy working for free so much that they do it over and over again! One in three interns say they have completed at least three internships without successfully finding a job. Needless to say, critics argue that this system severely disadvantages workers from less wealthy backgrounds, who cannot afford to support themselves financially (and aren’t willing to live in a tent as a recent UN intern was discovered doing).
To give you an idea about youth unemployment and internships in Europe, we’ve put together some facts and figures in an infographic below (click for a larger image).
We had a comment sent in from Paul, agreeing that youth unemployment is a huge problem in Europe, and arguing that cutting regulation and increasing the possibilities for traineeships (including relaxing the rules around unpaid internships) would definitely help.
To get a response, we spoke to Nicolas Schmit, Minister of Labour, Employment and Immigration. Luxembourg has one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe, so how would Minister Schmit respond to Paul?
I certainly agree with Paul on cutting red tape. I think there is some margin to do that, and this is partly a national issue because it’s wrong to say that all the wrong tape comes from Europe – a lot of it comes from our national regulations and administrative burdens.
The second point is that certainly it’s useful to pave the way for young professionals into the labour market by giving them better professional experience, but this has to be done with some limits and in a clear framework. Because it’s not normal that young people to stay for a very long time in unstable working relationships, and sometimes even in working relationships which are not paid. So, I think [relaxing the rules around internships] is not the right way to fight unemployment.
Certainly, it’s useful to have internships to give young people good professional experience, but this has to be clearly put into a framework. And there is, by the way, a recommendation by the Commission on internships, which does not abolish internships, but they cannot be a hidden form of work which is unpaid and does not give any rights to young people and puts them into a very precarious situation for very long.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Ankica Paun Jarallah, Director General of the Croatian Employment Service. Croatia has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the EU (43.1% in the second quarter of 2015). How would she react?
Internships may represent for individuals an easier way to enter a specific firm, or the labour market in general. But internships should be a paid form of work and EU Member States will have to find the [framework] to regulate it. People engaged in internship are in fact working, performing everyday duties in the work place, and all work has to be paid. We are talking about decent work, good quality jobs, so then why shouldn’t we have paid internships?
Are young Europeans doomed to a life of internships? Is it wrong that almost half of all internships in Europe are unpaid? Would relaxing the rules around internships help slash youth unemployment rates? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!