• Workers' rights

A traineeship is supposed to be an introduction to the world of work. An opportunity for young people to learn the ins and outs of the building site, the office, the hospital, or anywhere else they may want to pursue a career. An experience of work with the protection of knowing that they are not expected to know everything already.

What they are not supposed to be is a source of cheap (or even free) labour for companies to exploit or a career boost for a privileged few. Unfortunately in Europe, this is the sad reality.

Ten years ago, the European Council adopted a recommendation on traineeships in the EU. However, since this recommendation is non-binding, many member states simply ignored it and continued on with the same approach to traineeships.

This (ab)use of low-paid and unpaid traineeships means that traineeships are accessible for those with savings or access to other means of financial support, such as from a second job or family. For the vast majority of young people with neither, it means putting their dreams on hold and ignoring the investment they’ve already made in obtaining qualifications while they search for paid employment in another field.

In the meantime, companies across Europe are essentially subsidised by the financial support of trainees’ families whilst they receive months of free labour. In some member states, for worker’s rights such as holidays and sick days, trainees are beholden to the goodwill of their employer rather than any law. Rights, such as the right to strike, are mere pipe dreams. The current legal architecture creates a race to the bottom and a false economy for jobseekers.

The new European Parliament draft directive on quality traineeships could put an end to this by ending unpaid internships and forcing traineeships to be about just that – training. Left MEPs have been calling for new legislation to ensure that not only are trainees paid but that they have full coverage and access to social security benefits during the course of their traineeships.

It’s now up to the Council and the Commission to rise to the challenge. Supporting the directive with a robust legal framework can ensure that traineeships serve their purpose – as an entry into professional life. Young people across the EU deserve a Union that does more than merely pay lip service to their futures.

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