To Be Paid Or Not To Be – The EU Commission Proposal On Improving Traineeships At EU Level

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A smooth transition from education to employment is crucial for enhancing the chances of young people on the labour market. However, youth unemployment rates have reached historical peaks...
European Union Employment and HR
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A smooth transition from education to employment is crucial for enhancing the chances of young people on the labour market. However, youth unemployment rates have reached historical peaks in the past years in several Member States, without any sign of decrease in the short term. Fostering the employability and productivity of young people is key to bringing them onto the labour market. Traineeships are no exception, as they aid young people, as an initial stepping-stone towards obtaining job experience and furthering training opportunities in the field of their choice.

Notably, the value of traineeships in easing the transition to employment depends on their quality in terms of learning content and working conditions. Quality traineeships bring direct productivity benefits, improve labour market matching and promote mobility, notably by decreasing search and matching costs both for enterprises and for trainees. A quality traineeship must offer a solid and meaningful learning content and adequate working conditions, like any other working experience. This means, inter alia, the identification of the specific skills to be acquired, supervision and mentoring of the trainee, and monitoring of his/her progress.

Recommendation on a Quality Framework for Traineeships

Since 2014, and as it currently stands, the European Council Recommendation on a Quality Framework for Traineeships is the sole non-binding framework in place which applies to internships in the labour market. Although it increases transparency among Member States on the topic, more guidelines and support must be provided to trainees and their employers. This is in order to increase the number and quality of traineeships in the labour market, and with the aim of easing the transition from education, unemployment or inactivity to work to traineeship opportunities and future job openings.

Namely, the Recommendation by the European Council establishes the following principles:

  1. Traineeships require a written agreement concluded at the start of the traineeship between the trainee and the traineeship provider, and would include the educational objectives, working conditions such as the duration, whether an allowance would be provided and the rights and obligations of both parties.
  2. The learning and training objectives must be clearly outlined to promote and help trainees acquire practical experience and relevant skills. The tasks assigned to the trainee should enable these objectives to be attained, especially with the guidance and mentoring of a supervisor in charge.
  3. Working conditions also apply to traineeships. Therefore, limits to maximum weekly working time, minimum daily and weekly rest periods and, where applicable, minimum holiday entitlements, must be respected.
  4. The rights and obligations of the concerned parties must be properly listed down, such as confidentiality rules and the ownership of intellectual property rights.
  5. The duration of the traineeship must be reasonable. In principle, it does not normally exceed 6 months, however longer durations are acceptable, via extensions or renewals when based on justified reasons.
  6. The skills, knowledge and competences acquired during traineeships must be properly recognised and attested, on the basis of assessments, certification or the like.

EU Commission Proposal on Improving Traineeships

On the 28th of March of this year, the EU Commission recognised the need to improve the framework's quality principles in their application, monitoring and enforcement. It issued a proposal to improve working conditions for trainees, including pay, inclusiveness and quality traineeships in the EU. The initiative consists of 2 parts, and would apply to all trainees, regardless of their employment status, whether it forms part of their education schedule or training curricula:

  1. a proposal for a binding Directive on improving and enforcing working conditions for trainees and combatting regular employment relationships disguised as traineeships; and
  2. a proposal to revise the 2014 Council Recommendation on a Quality Framework for Traineeships to address issues of quality and inclusiveness, such as fair pay and access to social protection.

Essentially, legislative amendments would ensure that, based on the principle of non-discrimination, trainees are treated equally in terms of working conditions, including pay, compared to regular employees, unless different treatment is justified on objective grounds. The latter would include different tasks, lower responsibilities, work intensity or the weight of the learning and training component. Secondly, it would assure that traineeships are not used to disguise regular jobs and this would require Member States to ensure channels for trainees to report any malpractice and/or poor working conditions.

A salient feature of the revised Council Recommendation is promoting fair pay for trainees and reducing or abolishing the concept of unpaid traineeships. It would also guarantee a fairer and more inclusive experience, through better access to adequate social protection for trainees, appointing a mentor for more targeted support and advice, allowing hybrid working and lastly increasing in employability through additional career incentives.

In this regard, on the 5th of April, 2024, the EU Commission issued a response to the rising concerns of unpaid traineeships at EU level. The Commission firmly called on Member States to endorse and implement this recommendation. The Commission also called on companies to pay their trainees, and stop the exploitation of trainee workers.

Concluding Remarks and the Way Forward

Quality traineeships are beneficial on both parts. They help young people gain practical work experience, learn new skills and eventually find a good quality job. For employers, they are an opportunity to attract, train and retain talent. A quality traineeship requires fair and transparent working conditions and an adequate learning content. Indeed, young people deserve decent working conditions, from the very start of their working life, and this certainly includes traineeships. 

The European Parliament and the respective Member States must now discuss the Commission's proposed Directive on the topic. Once it is adopted by the co-legislators, Member States will have two years to incorporate it into national law. As for the Council Recommendation, it will be presented to the Council for consideration and adoption. Following this, the Commission will support Member States in implementing the Recommendation and will invite them to provide updates on national initiatives, reforms, best practices and statistics.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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