‘Pleasing’ boost to apprentice wage

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council has welcomed Fair Work Commission’s decision to increase first and second-year wages of new apprentices as of 1 January.

A year 12 school-leaver commencing their apprenticeship next year will take home a minimum of $398.50 per week, up from the $304.30 first year apprentices typically receive.

The commission decided to lift the rate to 55 per cent of the wage of a Level 1 qualified tradesperson for those who have completed year 12 schooling and 50 per cent otherwise, up from the 42 per cent a typical first-year apprentice receives.

The second-year wage has also been increased to 65 per cent for year 12 school leavers (60 per cent otherwise).

Last week’s decision came after a review of modern awards of apprentices, trainees and juniors, addressing “common claims” which included applications by unions, who were asking for increased apprentice wages.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said he was pleased the commission understood apprentices were on “extremely low wages” and the age bracket was higher than it used to be.

“Forty years ago an apprentices was 15 or 16 years old when they started, now they are 18 or 19,” Mr Parker said.

However Mr Parker said lifting wages was only part of changes required to address an apprentice dropout rate of about 49 per cent.

“I will be calling on the (federal) government to have written into the award a trade-ratio,” Mr Parker said.

“That is, for every four tradespersons there should be an apprentice – especially on a government project.”

He said small businesses, were the only ones to be hit by this increase, accusing national construction companies carrying out large-scale projects in Latrobe Valley of not employing apprentices.

“It is the small businesses, who are on low rates themselves, that are carrying

the load for apprentices,” Mr Parker said.

“The government needs to stop giving projects to companies that don’t employ apprentices.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the group hoped the big increases would not impact on apprentice numbers “which are already under pressure”.

“The new wage rates will… be phased in over a 12-month period up to 1 January 2015,” Mr Willox said.

“Despite this, there is the risk that the higher rates will have negative employment effects.

“Hopefully this will not be the case, as apprenticeships are vital in addressing skill shortages and in providing rewarding careers.”