ETU National Office MEDIA RELEASE: Thursday, 22 August 2013
Major victory for apprentices as union campaign wins substantial pay rises, modernising trade training.
Unions have celebrated substantial increases to apprentice wages as a major win in their campaign to modernise the apprentice system and make trade training more accessible.
The decision, handed down by Fair Work Australia at 2pm today, will deliver substantial pay increases to apprentices employed in building, electrical contracting, manufacturing and plumbing trades, as well creating higher pay rates for adult apprentices for the first time.
The pay rises will be transitioned over two years, with the wage of:
● a first year apprentice electrician who has completed year 12 jumping from $289 to $398 a week;
● a second year apprentice electrician who has completed year 12 climbing from $376 to $470 a week;
● a first year adult apprentice electrician, aged over 21 when commencing their trade, doubling from $289 to $579 a week;
● a second year adult apprentice electrician, aged over 21 when commencing their trade, leaping from $376 to $622 a week; and
● Third and fourth year adult apprentice electricians, aged over 21 when commencing their trade, moving to the higher of the minimum wage or the junior apprentice rates.
In handing down their joint decision, the Fair Work Commission emphasised that increased apprentice wages were a benefit for both apprentices and employees, finding that the rises were “appropriate in setting a fair and relevant minimum safety net for apprentices and would recognise the benefits of having better educated and potentially more productive young people entering apprenticeships.”
The Electrical Trades Union said the decision had clearly been influenced by independent research, commissioned by the union as part of the Modern Award review process, which identified that low pay rates were a major contributor to low retention rates, with almost four in ten apprentices failing to complete their training.
“For too long our apprentice pay system has been a remnant of the 1950‘s, when those learning a trade were teenagers living at home with mum and dad,” ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks.
“Shifting demographics mean that today, more than a quarter of modern apprentices are aged over 25 when they enter the trade.
“The expert advice was clear. If we want to address skills shortages, make training appealing to employers, and ensure adult apprentices can afford to live while undergoing their trade training, we needed to improve retention rates by ensuring they receive a liveable wage.”
Independent research, commissioned by the ETU and produced by Professor John Buchanan from the University of Sydney Workplace Research Centre, revealed that many trade apprentices were currently living below the poverty line.
“When a first year apprentice is earning just over half the pay of an unskilled burger-flipper at a fast-food restaurant, there’s no surprise that many are forced to drop out of their training,” Mr Hicks said.
“This independent research confirmed that low pay was a crucial tipping point that deterred people from entering trades or caused them to drop out of their training.
“Today’s pay decision is wonderful news for existing apprentices — or anyone considering entering a trade.
“Fair Work Australia has accepted that providing a liveable wage is an essential part of delivering the skills we need for our nation’s future prosperity.
Mr Hicks said that while improved wages would have an impact on retention rates, it was just one of many areas that needed to be improved in the trade training system to ensure skills shortages were met and young Australians could access employment opportunities.
“The recruitment and retention of apprentices is critical for the future skill base of Australia’s economy,” he said.
“Getting these policies right not only makes the trade training system more appealing for young people and more sustainable for employers, it ensures an on-going supply of the highly skilled tradespeople needed by consumers.”