Unions have rejected government proposals to force young people to remain in education until the age of 18.
Delegates at the TUC Congress in Brighton strongly rejected measures to compel young people to take part in education or training after 16.
Speaking for Unison, James Anthony told the conference floor the government should be supporting young people, not criminalising them.
He urged the government to look at the reason why so many young people drop out of formal education or training after 16.
Pointing to the high number of school leavers dropping out of apprenticeship schemes, Mr Anthony called on the government to extend minimum wage to people on apprenticeship schemes.
To warm applause from the floor, he said the government had to act to end poverty wages.
Unions backed the idea of extending the education leaving age in principle, but rejected the government's proposed legislation.
The forthcoming education and skills bill contains measures to raise the educational leaving age to 18, in the first extension of compulsory education in 35 years.
Ministers argue this is necessary to meet the growing demand for a skilled workforce, offset by a significant drop in demand for unskilled workers and increased global competition.
Concerns were raised when the bill was first announced over the suggestion 17 and 18 year-olds should be legally required to take part in education or vocational training.
The NUT said compulsion was "entirely the wrong approach" and rejected proposals to fine young people.
The Institute of Directors also warned an additional two years in education would do little to help young people who had failed to gain crucial skills at an early age.