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ISSUE 58 page 5

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Young people cry ‘Enough is enough!’ as EU begins push against unemployment

As jobs have haemorrhaged from European economies under pressure from the financial crisis young people have been disproportionately affected. We look at the European Commission’s new ‘Youth Opportunities Initiative’ as well as the different approaches of Member States to re-engage with their younger citizens.
 HIGHER RATES OF UNEMPLOYMENT AMONG young people are nothing new. Well before the current economic slump a combination of lack of work experience, early school leaving without qualifications, difficulty in accessing training and lack of mobility meant that the 15 to 24 age group routinely recorded higher figures than the workforce as a whole. Now however, with the onset of the current economic crisis and widespread cuts in the public sector, the situation has become a good deal worse. As of October last year Spain was bottom of the league with 48.9% youth unemployment just below Greece on 45.1%. Across the entire EU about five million young people were registered as without work, a rate of 22.1%, over double the 9.8% for all those of working age. Added to those registered are the youngsters who have given up looking for work or have never tried so that the total of all those not in employment, education or training (NEETs) is thought to be about 7.5 million. But this is not the end of the problem, temporary jobs, internships and other precarious employment is much commoner in the younger age range. In Slovakia and Poland over 60% of 15 to 24s who were in employment in 2009 had temporary jobs while the EU-wide rate was 40.2% compared to 13.4% for the total workforce. If these are the dimensions of a very big problem what are the hopes of a suitably large solution? The European Commission has launched a ‘Youth Opportunities Initiative’ in which it plans to play a ‘supportive’ rôle. It emphasises that ‘The primary responsibility for tackling youth unemployment lies with Member States’ as

. It wants them to allocate more of the European Social Fund that they receive to youth and upbraids Greece, Italy and Lithuania for spending less than 15% on young people when they have 30% and over without jobs.
Among Member States themselves there have been a wide range of initiatives. In Poland a student organisation (DZS) and a trade union confederation (FZZ) have come together in the ‘Commission Contract Generation’ campaign. It has a number of aims but is chiefly concerned with the rise of the temporary contract and the internship, the typical employee on less than the minimum wage is a young female graduate, and the use of civil law agreements which are outside Polish labour law. Internships are also on the agenda in France where the recent ‘Cherpion’ law regulates the practice through contracts signed by colleges and limits the duration, type of work and financial arrangements that they can entail.   The German system of vocational education in which companies provide both theoretical and practical training whilst paying trainees is thought to be mainly responsible for the low (9.1%) level of youth unemployment. However the DGB union federation has said that such schemes disguise the true rate and that ‘The young people in these programmes had no real prospects for their future’. Across the Baltic Sea in Sweden construction and metalworking unions already accept lower youth salaries hoping that more jobs will be created to reduce the high figure of 23% while the white collar TCO is against their extension to the rest of the economy.

national governments control budgets for educational and social programmes and the social partners are influential ‘in areas such as apprenticeships, training and working practices’.  The Commission points to the wide disparity of youth unemployment rates, only Austria, Germany and the Netherlands are under 10%, and enjoins countries that have the worst records to learn from the ‘better performers’



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