Starting pay well below minimum wages is turning people off apprenticeships, union warns

Connect calls for Government to address loophole that leaves some first year apprentices earning less than €7 per hour

Starting pay scales that fall well short of the country’s minimum rates are deterring young workers from taking up apprenticeships and leaving the building and related sectors facing the prospect of even greater staff shortages than are currently being experienced, according to the country’s largest engineering sector union.

The Connect union has called on the Government to abolish a clause that exists in current legislation exempting apprentices from minimum wage legislation, something it says will leave more than 8,000 apprentices earning as little as €6.84 over the coming year.

The €6.84 rate applies to first year apprentice craft workers in the construction sector with those starting out to become electricians initially earning €8.45 per hour, well short of the €10.50 minimum wage in effect across the economy generally.

“A lot of the people affected by this are over 21, you have 25 year-old with kids looking to start out to get qualified,” says Connect’s Brian Nolan.

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“Before, you have had what might have been regarded as kids starting out but now a lot of apprentices go to college first or do some other work before thinking that they would rather go back and be an apprentice.

“The rates improve in year two, or they are supposed to; there is a backlog in terms of getting through the system because of Covid and some employers don’t move the apprentices on when they are supposed to because they are still waiting to start the next stage of the apprenticeship, but it is a big barrier to anyone looking to enter one of these areas.

“Being realistic, we can’t expect individual companies to increase the rates because they are all concerned about getting undercut but their rivals. It needs a change to the legislation,” he says.

This would involvement an amendment to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000, the union says, which is what it is calling for.

In total, there are about 22,500 apprentices in the country working for some 8,000 employers and the Government, facing the prospect of an ongoing skills shortage in particular sectors, has run a variety of schemes to provide recruitment.

In many cases pay rates applicable to apprentices are based on percentages of qualified workers’ earnings.

The Department of Enterprise was asked for a response.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Industry and Employment Correspondent at The Irish Times