How the European Youth Forum fights for your rights
What is the European Youth Forum?
The European Youth Forum is the platform representing youth organisations in Europe. We represent in total a hundred youth organisations. These can be national youth councils or international non-governmental youth organisations. I am responsible for our work on employment and social affairs. So that is everything to do with promoting young people’s rights to quality employment, to social protection, to education and basically making sure that young people in Europe are included in society.
How can a young person get involved in your work?
If you want to get involved in the Youth Forum’s activities you should contact one of the organisation represented in the Forum. In the UK for example this is the British Youth Council as the National Youth Council for the UK. Or you could link in with an international organisation like the International Federation of Liberal Youth or the Children’s International Summer Village, both also based in the UK. You can find the full list of members here.
The Youth Forum has 3 main goals to overcome the challenges faced by young people :
1. Greater youth participation:
One way of doing this is by making sure young people vote at elections. In the European elections two years ago we had a big campaign to encourage young people to vote but also to encourage politicians to make youth a priority in their campaigns. This campaign was called ‘Love Youth Future’ and consisted of a series of pledges. Candidates for the European Parliament would sign up to them and vow to strive for youth rights if they were to be elected.
We also work on lowering the voting age to 16. One of our big campaigns is ‘Vote at 16’ because we believe that if young people can work, pay taxes and go to prison at the age of 16 then they should also be able to vote for the politicians who take these decisions on their behalf.
We should not just encourage the individual young person to go and vote but also make sure that there are structures in place institutionally to enable young people to have their voice heard. So on the European level we work on the Structured Dialogue for Youth. This process is aligned with the Presidency of the Council of the EU so each member state that holds the Presidency will organise a conference with the ministers responsible for Youth. Youth delegates from our member organisations will be there as well to exchange on the priorities of the upcoming 6 months. At the end of each conference a council conclusion that reflects the voice of young people and their priorities is agreed upon through which the voice of young people is heard on the EU level.
2. Stronger youth organisations:
We do a lot of capacity building with our members where we focus on making sure that youth organisations are empowered to do their job and are also reflecting our main values as an organisation like democratic representativeness, openness and tolerance. We sometimes organise training for them to make sure that internally they are able to function well. We support them in how to find funding, try to make sure they have the funding to survive as well as support them in doing their job effectively in advocacy on a national or regional level.
3. Increased youth autonomy and inclusion:
This is less the structures and the organisations that have to do with young people but more about the individual young person and how they are able to access their rights in society. We work on the right to education and making sure that education is inclusive and accessible to all young people. This involves looking both at formal education and non-formal ways of learning and making sure that the latter is accredited and recognised as an equally valid form of learning and education. Non-formal learning skills are acquired when volunteering, when working as part of a team or working in a youth network to lead workshops for young people. It gives you equally valid skills and competences to lead your life. We therefore work a lot on making sure that this type of learning is also recognised by policy makers as well as by employers when it comes to young people finding a job.
A big part of our work on this area of work the right to employment. This has been a concern that has been growing over the past 8 years or so since the onset of the economic and financial crisis with youth unemployment levels still very high. So what we do is promote measures that will support young people to find a job. And part of the work that we have been doing on the EU level is promoting the EU wide Youth Guarantee scheme which is a process whereby governments guarantee that a young person will be offered a job or further training or further education within 4 months of becoming unemployed. This involves structural changes so investing in public employment centres, creating links between employers and education providers, making sure that young people have targeted guidance to advise them from the moment they come out of schools or from the moment they become unemployed to make sure they quickly get a job and integrate in society through that crucial way.
On employment we are also looking at internships and apprenticeships and we also work more broadly on promoting quality jobs. We want to make sure that young people have fair jobs that can withstand change and give the job security that allows them to eventually lead an independent life.
About quality jobs and more specifically internships – is the situation in the UK similar to other countries in Europe?
I think internships in the UK are comparable to those across Europe. The issue of poor quality and unpaid internships is still there so we have been conducting an online campaign on this topic. This campaign is based on a Charter that we developed on quality internships which sets the minimum basic standard we think young people are entitled to when they do an internship. Ideally an internship should always take place within education because ultimately an internship is there to provide you with some extra skills that will be valued in the world of work. Any cost incurred during the internship should be paid back so the intern doesn’t have to pay to do their internship as part of their studies. Now obviously that ideal situation is quite far from reality where we see a lot of internships taking place outside education and this is where we call for adequate remuneration in the form of National Minimum Wage, for example, because we believe that if a young person is employed in an organisation after completing their education then they are already contributing to that organisation or workplace and they should therefore be fairly paid for that work.
There should be a big focus on the learning dimension of an internship by making sure the intern has a supervisor, defined learning objectives, internal evaluations etc. We work with the European institutions to see what they can do to make this a reality across the member states and we also work directly with employers. Employers can sign up to our charter which means that they are striving to implement the standards that we have there. We are also spreading the word on how offering quality internships is also a business’ responsibility in some ways. When companies invest in quality opportunities they will reap more rewards from the young people they employ than if they are just offering poor quality internships.
Any final advice for young people in the UK who are about to enter the job market or who have just entered the job market?
Know your rights. I think that this is something we lack in our education system: knowing what our rights are and what legally we are entitled to. And that is very important because we see more and more young people who are working for example without contracts. That is illegal and goes against employment legislation. Or they are working without holiday leave. That is also illegal. Young people are being discriminated against in the workplace and this is also illegal. So I think one thing you can do is to familiarise yourself with your rights and what you are entitled to so you are able to call out abuse. That is obviously challenging because it should not be up to young people to make that change. It should be up to policy makers and employers to make sure that they are abiding by the law and for the policy makers to make sure that the law is enough to protect the most vulnerable. So be aware of your rights and be aware of where these are being abused so you can call it out.
Another piece of advice is to engage in youth organisations. Engage in trying to call for a fairer situation for young people in the labour market. In the UK there is a Youth Minimum Wage for example. We are fundamentally against this because we see it as discrimination based purely on age. It is not based at all on the skills someone has, but just on the age that you are and we see this as totally unfair and discriminatory. So we are calling for an end to these practices. I guess there are many things that need to be fixed so engaging as well as advocacy and activism around employment issues is really important because if young people aren’t being loud about this, nobody will.
Watch the European Youth Forum's video on International Intern's Day 2015: