Young workers


The definition of a young worker depends on the policy context: EU legislation aiming to protect young workers defines a young worker as under the age of 18, while statistics cover the 15-24-year age group and EU policy initiatives aimed at young workers can be broader, covering workers up to the age of 30.


Accordingly, under Council Directive 94/33/EC of 22 June 1994 on the protection of young people at work, young workers are defined as individuals who are under 18 years of age, who have an employment contract or an employment relationship defined by the law in force in a Member State and/or governed by the law in force in a Member State. This Directive also defines adolescents as any young person of at least 15 years of age but less than 18 years of age who is no longer subject to compulsory full-time schooling under national law. The Directive provides for a range of protections that apply to young workers, relating to areas such as specific risks to their safety, health and development which are a consequence of their lack of experience, of absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or of the fact that young people have not yet fully matured. Accordingly, under Article7(2), the following work is prohibited in the case of young people:

  • work which is objectively beyond their physical or psychological capacity;
  • work involving harmful exposure to agents which are toxic, carcinogenic, cause heritable genetic damage, or harm to the unborn child or which in any other way chronically affect human health;
  • work involving harmful exposure to radiation;
  • work involving the risk of accidents which it may be assumed cannot be recognized or avoided by young persons owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training; or
  • work in which there is a risk to health from extreme cold or heat, or from noise or vibration.

The Directive also provides that the working time of adolescents is restricted to eight hours a day and 40 hours a week and young people. It also prohibits night work for adolescents either between 22.00 and 06.00 or between 23.00 and 07.00. In the case of young workers, the Directive states that the time spent on training by a young person working under a theoretical and/or practical combined work/training scheme or an in-plant work-experience scheme shall be counted as working time. The Directive also provides for specific provisions governing rest and breaks.

In employment policy terms, young workers are usually defined as those aged between 15 and 24. Eurostat labour force survey figures relating to young workers also relate to the 15-24-year age group. The 15-24 definition has also been adopted by the International Labour Organisation, in its 2010 report, Global employment trends for youth. Special issue on the impact of the global economic crisis on youth. However, there is some ambiguity surrounding the definition of what constitutes a young worker, due to the fact that young people are delaying their transitions into the labour market, often through the extension of the provision of higher education. This trend is particularly notable in developed economies and is a strong feature of the experiences of young people across the EU.

The EU’s flagship employment policy, Youth on the Move (part of the EU’s Europe 2020 labour market strategy), which aims to improve the labour market prospects of young workers, does not give an explicit definition of the age group that it is targeting, but is broadly aimed at those who are under the age of 30 (see Youth on the Move – An initiative to unleash the potential of young people to achieve smart, sustainable and inclusive growth in the European Union).

For an overview of what the social partners and public authorities are doing to help young workers during the crisis: contributions by social partners and public authorities, see the European Industrial Relations Observatory comparative analytical report (TN1101019S).

See also: Labour force participation; employment rate; European Employment Strategy; access to employment


Please note: the European industrial relations dictionary is updated annually. If errors are brought to our attention, we will try to correct them.


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