The South West TUC has launched a campaign to inform apprentices of their rights.
With government figures showing nearly one in five apprentices are not receiving the minimum wage to which they’re entitled, the South West TUC has produced an online apprentice pay calculator as part of its ‘Don’t Let Your Pay Slip’ initiative.
South West TUC Regional Secretary Nigel Costley said:
A good apprenticeship is a route to a rewarding career but some apprentices are not paid even the legal minimum wage.”
We want to help apprentices get good training, be paid right and treated well. We will support and promote good employers, but we will also call out those employers and training providers who allow apprentices to be underpaid.”
The South West TUC campaign will:
• Inform apprentices of their rights
• Share an easy-to-use apprentice pay calculator
• Share ‘Happy Birthday - time for a pay rise’ cards
• Train young trade unionists to be able to meet and advise apprentices on their pay rates
• Work with training providers to make sure employers meet minimum pay levels
• Help UCU college lecturers get the message across to students
• Spread Facebook and other social media ads.
• Encourage apprentices to join their union.
A large part of the campaign is the website that asks apprentices to input their pay and how many hours they have worked, then it calculates whether the sum reaches the minimum wage for their age and stage in their training.
Many employers do not even pay this amount as Professor Felix Ritchie, Head of Research at the University of the West of England’s accounting, economics and finance department, points out.
There is a real problem with underpayment in apprentice pay.”
Apprentices are more likely to be paid less than the minimum wage than other groups in the country, which is a concern because apprentice pay is already the lowest of the minimum wages.”
Dr Hilary Drew, associate head of department for partnerships and lecturer in HR management at UWE, praised the new website, saying:
It’s fantastic. The challenge, though, is getting it to the right audience.
We did research in 2013 and 2015 and when we asked young workers how much they were paid, how many hours they worked, most of them didn’t know.
Professor Ritchie agrees:
For most of the kids, out of school, out of college, this will probably be their first job.”
They probably haven’t seen a payslip before, so asking questions – how many hours do you work? what’s your gross pay? – is quite difficult for them. Sorting that out is going to be key.”
Dr Drew added:
The people we spoke to had no idea they might be paid the wrong wage. They never thought about how much they might be paid, never thought their boss might be underpaying them.
Paying apprentices the proper wage is the right thing to do, it’s fair. Particularly in the sectors we looked at, there was an idea that there was a low-pay culture and you work in this profession therefore you will be paid less. It’s setting people up to be exploited and that’s wrong.”
Research suggests most instances of underpayment are mistakes by the employer rather than a calculated effort to exploit young workers, but the South West TUC is taking no chances.
Nigel Costley said:
We believe it’s unfair to put the burden on young apprentices to fight bad bosses when they’re just starting out, and at the bottom rung of the organisation.”
We want employers, colleges and training providers to take a more active part in protecting the apprentices they employ and teach. But we also want apprentices to know their rights from day one.”
To help apprentices learn more about their rights at work, the South West TUC will be training up trade union activists, members and workplace reps to go into colleges and host training sessions on the calculator.
TUC South West Campaigns Officer Ines Lage said:
We want to ensure as many apprentices are safeguarded against exploitation or error by knowing how to read their payslips, check their contracts and work out their hours.”
The TUC’s campaign has the support of Anna Keen, chair of learning partnership and Bristol City cabinet member for skills. Anna said:
Apprenticeships are excellent for many people.”
They allow you to earn money, they give you a different route through to higher education and they strengthen our workforce because we’re able to train people into the job they’re doing. By paying people correctly, it underlines how valuable people are who do those jobs and strengthens our workforce by having good quality jobs that people are paid for.”
Lee Probert, head of City of Bristol College, agrees:
Apprentices make up a significant part of the workforce in Bristol so we should all get behind any campaign that promotes the value and power of apprenticeships as a route to securing high level skills and training and properly reflects what they deserve in terms of their pay and conditions.”
You can find the website here.