THE ISSUE: Regulation may help stem exploitation
Tue, June 19, 2012 - 12:00 AM
THE INTERNATIONAL LABOUR Organization (ILO) says the global youth unemployment rate for 2012 remains stuck at crisis peak levels and is not expected to come down until at least 2016.
Projections show 12.7 per cent of the global youth labour force will be unemployed this year, unchanged from the peak of the crisis in 2009, and slightly up from last year’s 12.6 per cent, according to the Global Employment Trends For Youth 2012 report.
This rate would even be higher if one takes into account those who give up or postpone looking for a job, often discouraged by the lack of prospects.
The ILO suggests that further pressure on unemployment rates is expected when those extending their stay in the education system because of limited job prospects eventually enter the labour market.
“The world is facing a worsening youth employment crisis: young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and over 75 million youth worldwide are looking for work.
“The ILO has warned of a ‘scarred’ generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world,” the global body states on its website.
With Barbados’ unemployment rate averaging 11.2 per cent for 2011 youth employment concerns are also a local problem.
Period of transition
The Barbados Youth Development Council (BYDC) has reported seeing signs of growing frustration as an increasing number of youth have found themselves either unemployed or underemployed despite steadfast adherence to the maxim “go to school, study hard, and you will get a good job”.
“The period of transition into young adulthood has therefore become increasingly difficult and many youths have found themselves significantly delaying or foregoing their dreams and aspirations, be they marriage, acquiring a home, furthering their studies, or simply lifting their families out of poverty,” the BYDC said.
The oft repeated conundrum of needing experience to get a job and needing a job to get experience rings true for many school-leavers and graduates of tertiary education.
One possible solution lies in unpaid internships which provide young people an opportunity to apply the theory they learnt in school while also learning about the dynamics of the working environment.
Indeed, during and following the world economic crisis, the number of students opting for unpaid attachments increased in the United States and Britain.
In Barbados, work attachments usually form part of an academic programme although some young people pursue internships independently for a small stipend.
As it relates to apprenticeship programmes, recent suggestions that trainees are being exploited may signal the need for greater regulation of job placements, even as more young people may seek to volunteer their services to gain valuable work experiences.
In the May 19, 2012 SUNDAY SUN, Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) Youth Arm president Dwaine Paul said companies offering apprenticeships to the youth would soon come under the scrutiny of the body since trainees were complaining.
Paul said young people working with companies as apprentices for one or two years were neither appointed nor given more compensation when that apprenticeship period ended. In fact, they were required to do more work with little or no supervision.
“What I’ve heard from some of them is that when [the company] finally gets around to them, probably five or six years after the fact, they are being told, ‘Well, those years you were considered an apprentice don’t carry forward to your years of service’. So they’re being asked to start at zero and it is being seen as acceptable.”
Paul said the union understood that every apprentice could not be permanently employed but there should be some kind of communication so the apprentices knew this at the start of the programme.
Trainees had also expressed concern about being placed in jobs outside of their area of training. For example, he added, there were situations where people studied cookery and were placed in the housekeeping department in some hotels. As a result, the trainees didn’t get to “practise the skills” they were trained in.
In addition, apprentices ended up working all the public holidays because “the regular staff [was] off”. Such businesses, therefore, were “basically trading labour”, said Paul, as they used the people “who are supposed to be working to cover the most expensive periods”.
He insisted that apprenticeship programmes needed to be evaluated properly to eliminate areas of exploitation.
In the United States, a May 5, 2012 New York Times article noted that many college graduates who expected to land paid jobs were turning to unpaid internships trying to get a foot in an employer’s door.
“A few years ago you hardly heard about college graduates taking unpaid internships,” said Ross Eisenbrey, a vice-president at the Economic Policy Institute who has done several studies on interns.
“But now I’ve even heard of people taking unpaid internships after graduating from Ivy League schools.”
It should be noted that such internships are supposed to be regulated by the state.
The United States Labour Department notes that if employers do not want to pay their interns, the internships must resemble vocational education, the interns must work under close supervision, their work cannot be used as a substitute for regular employees and their work cannot be of immediate benefit to the employer.
However, “in practice, there is little to stop employers from exploiting interns”. “The Labour Department rarely cracks down on offenders, saying that it has limited resources and that unpaid interns are loath to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing any future job search”.
In Britain, according to a report by The Guardian, young unemployed people are being told to work up to 30 hours a week in low-skilled retail jobs for big, profitable firms without any pay and without promise of any job when their “training” period is finished. Workers who refuse this are cut off their “jobseekers” allowance.
Under the government’s work experience programme, young jobseekers are exempted from national minimum wage laws for up to eight weeks in a number of big-name businesses.
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