Why the apprentice minimum wage is ‘exploitative’
By Dexter Hutchings, January 7, 2020
An increase in the national minimum wage for apprentices sounds like good news and is a step in the right direction, but for many people struggling to live on these appallingly low rates, it’s little more than a sop.
Employers can currently pay apprentices aged under 19 or those in the first year of their apprenticeship just £3.90 per hour. In April it will increase by 6.4 percent to £4.15, giving apprentices working a 40-hour week an annual salary of just £8,632.
The apprentice minimum wage is exploitative and too low to cover basic living costs. The Apprentice Voice report, published in October 2019, found that a third of apprentices surveyed spend more than a fifth of their monthly salary on travel, typically £795.72 per year. The average rent for a house in the UK is £967 per month, making it impossible for an apprentice not living at home to meet basic outgoings.
The apprentice minimum wage was introduced to encourage employers to take on apprentices, the low rate reflecting that apprentices are still in training. However, the fact that apprentices are “learning on the job” doesn’t negate the fact that they are still doing the work and contributing to an organization’s balance sheet.
The value of apprentices
At the heart of this dichotomy is the value that employers, industry, the education sector and the government place on apprenticeships. While our counterparts in other parts of Europe view their apprentices as an investment in their business and future economy, in the UK, the notion of an apprenticeship as a second-best option to going to university seems to prevail.
Yet the evidence doesn’t support this view. Businesses employing apprentices report average increases in productivity of £214 per week, equivalent to more than £11,000 a year.