Almost a third of apprentices were paid less than the minimum wage in 2012, a government survey has revealed.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Apprenticeship Pay Survey, published this afternoon, shows that 29 per cent of apprentices received less than the legal minimum. This amounts to a 45 per cent increase on the number of apprentices who were underpaid in 2011.
Worst affected were hairdressing apprentices, with an astonishing 69 per cent being paid less than the minimum, followed by their counterparts working in the children’s care (43 per cent) and construction (42 per cent) sectors.
The proportion of underpaid apprentices working in business administration more than doubled from 14 per cent in 2011 to 31 per cent last year.
In 2012, the minimum wage for all first year apprentices was £2.65 per hour. The hourly rate was the same for 16-18 apprentices, while second year apprentices aged 19 or 20 were entitled to at least £4.98. Apprentices aged 21 or over should have received an at least £6.19 an hour.
The figures were described as “shocking” by Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress. “[They] show how many apprentices are currently seen as little more than cheap labour.
“Apprentice exploitation is getting worse across the board. In some industries, such as hairdressing, abuse has become endemic. Ministers must launch investigations now into this abuse.
“This survey also reveals a number of systematic failures in the way apprenticeship pay is being monitored. There are plenty of bad bosses who have deliberately cheated young workers. And it appears many businesses do not understand how minimum wage rates work.
“Unless the government does more to make companies aware of their responsibilities, as well as naming, shaming and persecuting rogue employers, many apprentices will continue to be exploited.”
Skills minister Matthew Hancock, too, was unequivocal in his response to the survey’s findings. “Paying less than the minimum wage is illegal and if employers break this law they need to know that we will take action,” he said. “We have revised the national minimum wage naming scheme so it is easier to name and shame employers who break minimum wage law, alongside increasing awareness of the minimum wage rules and ensuring all training providers inform employers and apprentices of the requirements.
“And I now write to each and every new apprentice setting out what they can expect [to be paid].”
Any apprentice who believes they are being paid less than they are entitled to can get free and confidential advice by calling 0800 9172368.