Negotiating and bargaining on Apprenticeships

This information is designed for use by union reps. If you are an apprentice, see our Information and resources for apprentices.

It is crucial that negotiators and reps get Apprenticeships on the bargaining agenda. Apprenticeships span all areas of union activity from recruitment and organising, pay bargaining, and learning and skills to equality and diversity, and health and safety.

Unions will have their own approaches to bargaining on Apprenticeships. Some will include Apprenticeships in learning agreements, some will draw up specific Apprenticeship agreements, and others will treat apprentices like any other category of worker.

Below are some suggested key points on Apprenticeships that reps and negotiators may find useful when entering into negotiations that include Apprenticeship issues:

Contract of employment

Apprentices are employees and should have contracts of employment for at least the duration of the training period. Ideally an Apprenticeship should lead to a guaranteed job. In some industries, short-term contracts are the norm and the union can play a role in supporting newly qualified apprentices in getting their first full job. Unions and employers can help apprentices to improve their chances of getting a job by offering guaranteed interviews to apprentices or by offering training and support on CV writing skills and interview skills.

Decent pay and conditions

Apprentice rates should reflect the job done; if an apprentice does a full job they should be paid for it, or quickly progress incrementally to that point. If percentage rates are negotiated, they should start as high as possible and progress by time served or milestones or competencies achieved, rather than by age. In industries such as construction with nationally agreed apprentice pay, ensure the local employer is complying with that agreement. See also Pay for Apprentices.

High quality training

Union negotiators will want to ensure that Apprenticeship programmes in their workplace identify a clear programme of training including sufficient time spent off the job, such as in college, in dedicated training centres at the workplace, or in private study. See also Working Time and Time Off to Study).

Access to a trade union

Apprentices are often young people with little experience of the world or work or of trade unions. Union reps should negotiate with employers to make sure that the union has the opportunity to speak to apprentices when they start work. Reps should also encourage other union members to speak to apprentices about why it’s important for them to join the union.

Equality and diversity

A good Apprenticeship programme should include strategies to ensure that Apprenticeships are accessible to the widest possible demographic. See also Equality and Diversity).

Health and safety

Research has shown that apprentices have a significantly greater probability of having an accident at work compared to the "sector average" (Institute for Employment Studies/Learning and Skills Council (2004) Review of the Reporting of Accidents and Incidents Involving Learners), with youth and inexperience undoubtedly being a major factor. Safeguarding employees from physical or mental harm is a major priority for unions and unions should ensure that the importance of health and safety is a priority in any Apprenticeship scheme. See also Health and Safety for Apprentices).

No job substitution

It is vital that unions negotiate to ensure that apprentices are not used for job substitution, and that they are recruited to fill genuine skills shortages and plan for future skills gaps.


The role that mentoring plays in supporting apprentices successfully to complete their training, and to progress in their career has been a crucial aspect of a quality Apprenticeship experience for centuries. Union engagement in Apprenticeships at the workplace level should involve some form of mentoring of apprentices by union representatives. See also Mentoring Apprentices).

Apprenticeships – working across the union

All union reps have roles to play in ensuring that Apprenticeships schemes are of a high quality. Stewards have a clear role to play in ensuring that apprentices are included within collective bargaining and negotiating over terms and conditions.

Union learning reps (ULRs) have statutory rights to promote learning or training with their colleagues and to work with their employers and local providers to ensure all the workforce can take up the opportunities. ULRs can help to ensure that the training aspect of the Apprenticeship is of sufficient quality.

Health and safety reps can work to ensure that the workplace is suitable for apprentices, in terms of equipment, environment and culture.

Reps of any kind could take on a mentoring role within the Apprenticeship scheme.

If some of these roles are not present in the workplace, the introduction and support of apprentices would be a good opportunity to recruit to these posts.

Next: The business case for offering Apprenticeships