Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1580      February 6, 2013

Apprentices deserve a living wage

First-year building and construction apprentices must be paid a wage that meets their minimum living costs, the Construction Division of the CFMEU says. The CFMEU has made a joint application to Fair Work Australia, with the ACTU, AMWU and CEPU, calling for a wage rise for apprentices. The application would vary the building and construction awards to increase the minimum wage of a first year apprentice to 60 percent of the trade rate (i.e. $423.66 per week).

The current first year wages for apprentices is $317.75 – a woefully inadequate figure only slightly higher than the Newstart allowance.

The research showed that first and second-year junior apprentices were spending an average of $440 per week on basic living costs (e.g. accommodation, telephone, food and non-alcoholic drinks, and transport and fuel).

CFMEU National Construction Division secretary Dave Noonan said that the current apprentice wages were stuck in a time warp and did not reflect the pressures on apprentices.

“Apprentices are not just 15 or 16-year-olds. Most are over 18 and many are in their 20s and may have families to support. A wage that does not cover basic living costs is a key reason why young people drop out of apprenticeships, despite liking the work.

“If you cannot afford to pay rent and own a car to drive to work, you are going to struggle to finish an apprenticeship.”

Apprentices rely on their families for support, work second jobs, or are forced into debt, just to get skills which our economy needs, said Mr Noonan.

Mr Noonan said a drop in apprenticeship completions would hurt Australia’s economy in the long-term by causing shortages of skilled tradespeople.

“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.

“At a time where 25 percent of young people are not working or in education or training we should be making it easier for apprentices, not harder.

“We are sure that there are many apprentices, and their parents, who support our application and urge them to let the Fair Work Commission know they support our claim.”

The full bench of the Fair Work Commission will begin hearings into the review of wages and conditions for apprentices, trainees and juniors at the start of March. The case is being heard as part of the two-yearly review of the Modern Awards system which came into being in 2010.  

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