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Paying apprentices a living wage will stop future skills shortages - unions begin historic case

04 March 2013 By ACTU

Unions will today call on Fair Work Australia to lift pay rates for apprentices to ensure young people continue to have a pathway to secure jobs and Australia can have a reliable supply of skilled workers.

Launching a case in the Fair Work Commission brought by unions in Sydney today, ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver said the modern Award system should recognise that the needs and circumstances of apprentices have dramatically changed since the current apprenticeship wage structures were first established many decades ago.

He said that more apprentices now dropped out of their training than completed it, with low wages being a major disincentive to finishing an apprenticeship.

"Paying apprentices a living wage will make life easier for them and will help ensure Australia has enough skilled tradespeople for the future," Mr Oliver said.

"Apprentice wages are currently less than the minimum wage and sometimes only slightly higher than the Newstart allowance. They do not provide enough money for apprentices to survive."

"The pay rates for apprentices are still stuck in the past and fail to reflect the reality that many apprentices are adults and have adult responsibilities like kids and a mortgage."

"Today only 13 per cent of apprentices are aged 16 or younger, and half are over the age of 21.

"If you cannot afford to pay rent or travel to work, you are going to struggle to finish an apprenticeship."

Mr Oliver said that unions wanted increased pay for all apprentices, and for those over 20 to be paid the same rate as the lowest adult classification in the relevant award.

"In the long term this is an investment in Australia's skills base which will deliver major benefits for industry," Mr Oliver said.

"Apprenticeships have been a key part of the training system in Australia for decades. If we continue to lose apprentices we will become even more reliant on importing workers in key trades.

"Australia is already importing thousands of temporary workers each year on 457 visas, at a time when a quarter of young people are not in work or training. This is not a sustainable situation."

"We need more investment in the apprenticeship system, both to encourage employers to offer them, and young people to take them up. A living wage is the best way to improve our completion rate for apprentices, which is currently below 50 per cent."

Media Contacts: Ben Ruse 0409 510 879; Jane Garcia 0434 489 533

Contact Details
Name: David Smith, ASU National Secretary
Telephone: 03 9342 1400