Young women and young migrants need a pay rise

By Viktória Nagy and Rune Bugten, ETUC Youth Committee Vice-Presidents

Europe does not yet offer equal opportunities in the labour market for all young people. When it comes to getting a good job with fair pay, young women and young migrants face additional obstacles.

They need an end to discrimination, and a pay rise!

Youth unemployment in Europe is more than double the general jobless rate, while women suffer higher unemployment than men. So young women are in a particularly vulnerable situation. They are less involved in on-the-job training, with 24% of men and 21% of women undergoing training over the last 12 months. Men (60%) more often receive funding from their current employer than women (50%), and are more likely to complete a traineeship (37% versus 32%), while young women take part in non-formal learning activities more often than men. These and other factors contribute to the persistent gender pay gap. Although the gap is smaller for younger than older women, career breaks for childcare progressively undermine young women’s pay and job security.

The European Council, when launching the Youth Guarantee in 2013, recognised that “Young women are more likely to be affected by low pay and precarious employment, while young parents, primarily young mothers, lack adequate work-life balance measures.” Much stronger action is needed at EU and national level to enable young women not only to access good quality jobs, but also to keep them!

Within the EU, many young people are forced to migrate due to the lack of good jobs and fair pay in their home countries. Those that are qualified seek opportunities or decent wages elsewhere. This in turn undermines economic and social development in their own communities. Hungary is just one example. Trade unions called for the government to introduce a youth strategy when thousands of young graduates left during the economic crisis. Every third Hungarian aged 15-29 plans to leave the country for a time, many without returning, motivated by low wages at home and the hope of a better life abroad. A first job pays around €345, while a one-room apartment in Budapest costs some €323. Those who remain delay parenthood, because the more children a woman has, the more her salary will fall. Young Hungarians say that financial difficulties, insecurity and being poor are their main problems in life.

In Cyprus, the brain drain of qualified young people is also a significant problem. The government has responded by launching projects offering paid internships and apprenticeships or subsidised salaries. But the situation remains critical because the quality of job opportunities has not improved. Not all migrants stay in Europe. Portugal, which was hit badly by the crisis, has the highest emigration rate in the EU with many youngsters leaving for Africa, South or North America.

Eurostat confirms that young people are a particularly vulnerable and over-represented group among migrants, and that employment is one of the main incentives for mobility.

Countries with lower unemployment rates attract young people, but this does not mean they value them. In the UK, whereas young EU migrants are more likely to be in work than their British counterparts, research by Oxford University found they work long hours, often on lower pay and with worse conditions, even though many of them are highly qualified. It noted that 60% of migrant workers arriving in the UK were aged 20 to 34, with more women than men from central and eastern European countries.

Young people with a migrant background face a significantly higher risk of unemployment or inactivity – and therefore of poverty – in many EU countries, notably in Greece, Poland, Hungary and Romania. Young migrants and refugees from outside the EU are the most vulnerable of all. Employment objectives are not being met for non-EU-born and female migrants. Young people from countries outside the EU are most likely to be in ill-paid or precarious work such as temporary or part-time jobs. And young female migrants suffer the highest unemployment rates of all.

Young non-EU migrants and refugees need more complex support than young Europeans, ranging from treatment for psychological trauma because of their journeys and experiences, to the recognition of their skills and qualifications. It is crucial to reduce the number of young migrant NEETs, those Not in Education, Employment or Training.

Good quality, well-paid training and apprenticeships are the best way to get young people –especially less advantaged ones like migrants and women – into the labour market. In Norway, trade unions have set up ‘patrols’ to monitor the quality of workplace training, talking to young people about their experiences and using digital apps to gather information. This not only enables unions to put pressure on educational policy-makers, it also offers them recruitment opportunities.

In Germany, government agencies launched a special 24-month integration programme to get 10,000 young refugees into dual vocational education and training, with financial support. To deal with the rising number of new arrivals in the country, the Federal Employment Agency set up 6 to12-month pre-training placements in enterprises for young people who find it hard to get a training place, coupled with language courses, and expert advice to help companies integrate refugees into apprenticeship training and the labour market.

Full implementation of the EU Youth Guarantee  in Member States is vital. To be effective, measures must be fully funded. It is Member States’ responsibility to integrate all young people into the labour market, but existing EU policies aimed at improving access for young people – such as the Youth Guarantee, the Erasmus+ programme and the Integration Action Plan – are not tailored to the specific needs of young migrants. Racial discrimination and the demand that migrants should not be a ‘burden’ on society are significant barriers to successful labour market integration, and existing policies are not addressing them.

The trade unions, through their EU-wide UnionMigrantNet network, offers practical support to help migrant workers of all ages to avoid exploitation and aim for good quality, well-paid jobs. But a lot more must be done to guarantee a fair wage to all women and migrant workers in the EU. They need a pay rise!