Exploited and insulted: the need for radical change in apprentice pay

Friday 13-02-2015 - 15:07

Robert writes about putting a stop to exploitation in apprenticeships


"Modern Apprenticeships form a significant part of the Scottish Government’s pledge to support youth employment”

That sounds like a really good pledge from the Scottish Government. Apprenticeships are a great way to learn while you work. The skills, experience and knowledge that an apprentice gets from a good apprenticeship are second to none.

But hold on a second. The word “employment” is a pretty crucial part of that sentence.

What does employment mean? To me it means to have an occupation by which a person earns a living. Seems fair enough?

What do we call it when someone’s employer doesn’t pay enough to make a “living”? I call that exploitation, and exploitation is exactly what’s happening to a lot of apprentices in Scotland.

A report was produced by Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) which shows us that we are nowhere near as good at investing in our young people as we thought. The report reveals that a large proportion of apprentices in Scotland are paid less than the national Apprentice minimum wage of £2.73 per hour. 

Let’s look into that figure for a second: £2.73, that’s £101 per week, £404 per month and £4,848 per year. I don’t know anyone who could afford to pay their rent and bills with that amount of money - it’s not 1980 anymore!

About the 80s; I love that decade. The music from then is the best, and if you don’t believe me google it or click here. The average pay for a worker in 1980 was around £6,000. 35 years and a fair bit of inflation later, that’s £1,152 more than some apprentices can expect. I think that is scandalous.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, apprenticeships also have a huge gender pay gap.

Women being paid lower than men for doing the same job is an oppressive practice that infects the employment sector as a whole and one which young women apprentices are not immune too. 

So what’s the difference in how much young women apprentices in Scotland are paid compared to young men? You might think 1%, 3%... which would be bad enough. The actual figure is – wait for it -17.5%. Yep you read that correctly. Woman apprentices get 17.5% less pay than apprentices who are men. It’s a shocking indictment of our investment in youth employment and shows how far we still have to go on workplace equality.  It sends our young trainees the messages that work done by a woman is still not considered as valuable as the work done by a man.

Today TES Scotland published an article which highlights the shocking state of apprentice pay in Scotland. The article quotes business leaders saying that employers shouldn’t be solely responsible for apprentice pay, while the Scottish Government claims that low apprentice pay is a decision for the Westminster government. We think that our leaders need to step up and take responsibility.

Decisions need to be made by our governments both in Westminster and in Holyrood, and our employers must do their bit too. We need to see real investment in youth employment and a proper challenge to the inequalities which are prevalent in our workplaces. This is what NUS Scotland will be campaigning for through the National Society of Apprentices Scotland.  


Blogs, NUS Scotland

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