Measures must be taken to prevent a generation of young Australians becoming victims of long-term unemployment as a result of the Global Financial Crisis, say unions.

Commenting on the release of an OECD report, Jobs for Youth, ACTU President Sharan Burrow said avoiding a blow-out in the ranks of unemployed young people must be a major priority for the Australian economy in coming months.

She said employers had a special obligation not to retrench trainees and apprentices at the first sign of tough times as this could lead to them not finishing their qualifications and finding it hard to secure decent work.

Ms Burrow said unions welcomed the recent $300 million Federal Government program to enable young people to complete their apprenticeships.

Unions have called for a job compact for young Australians unemployed for 18 months or more.

This would involve a six to 12 month job placement, primarily in the private sector, to all who have been on unemployment benefits for more than 18 months.

Intensive help must also be provided for people aged under 18 to search for suitable full-time work, training or education through the Youth Training Initiative.

Ms Burrow said the latest data showed that 91,000 young Australians in full-time work lost their jobs in the past year.

“We must ensure that young people beginning their working lives are not left behind by the GFC,” she said.

“It would be a tragedy if a generation of young Australians were trapped in long-term unemployment and poverty as a result of this downturn.”

Ms Burrow said improved industrial relations protections for young workers were also very important and should not be undermined by the Global Financial Crisis.

Vulnerable young people featured prominently among the victims of WorkChoices with AWA individual contracts stripping away wages, conditions and rights for thousands of young people, especially in the retail and hospitality sectors.

The recently-passed Fair Work Act will provide better protection for young workers, and Ms Burrow cautioned against any roll back of the new industrial relations laws that would leave young workers more exposed to being ripped off by employers.

“We must not go back to the days when young workers were exploited and ripped off under a system that gave them few rights at work,” Ms Burrow said.