Employer groups and unions are facing off over the apparent high rate of attrition among young apprentices.
According to Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) president Andrew Dettmer, some 48% of apprentices will quit before they finish, mostly due to low pay.
The AMWU is currently lobbying Fair Work Australia to increase wages, and has made a submission to increase wages for first-year apprentices to become 50% of the full-trade rate. Dettmer said apprentice’s survival often comes down to the charity of their parents. “We know that apprentices are a crucial part of the Australian economy and unless there is some kind increase to their rates of pay then we're going to find that our skills shortage, which is already bad, is going to get worse,” he added.
Yet Australian Industry Group (AiGroup) chief executive Innes Willox said the idea that employers can simply afford massive pay increases for trainees is untenable – the current economic climate is too tough for a wage increase.
Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch commented that a wage increases would have in fact have the opposite desired effect, and lead to job losses in the industry. “Economic conditions and profits in the building industry are very dire. The industry is already laying off jobs," he told the ABC. “Last year it nearly shed 70,000 jobs. To simply ask for a wage increase at this point in time is simply not sustainable.”
Harnisch said employers may be forced to stop hiring apprentices or lay off the ones they already have if wage costs go up. “[It] will have a devastating impact on the employment prospects of apprentices, both those currently employed and those who are looking to apprentice having left school last year,” he said.
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