Recent research shows that, shockingly, almost one in five young apprentices in the United Kingdom are being drastically underpaid, and some are earning as little as one pound an hour. Two large surveys have been carried out, and the results are startling.
After a Government Apprentice Pay survey took place, a report was released by The Low Pay Commission in 2018. The report showed that not only did the number of apprentices being paid less than the National Minimum Wage go up from 15% to 18% in the last four years, but 18% of apprentices are receiving less per hour than the rate that they are entitled to.
Figures showed that out of almost a million apprentices in the UK, during 2015-16 nearly 200,000 employees were paid less than the legal minimum amount. This is very concerning, as it means that levels of non-compliance are getting worse.
The highest proportion of underpaid apprentices was seen in the hairdressing industry, closely followed by those working in childcare. Those working in construction were also affected, along with retail staff and hospitality and social care workers.
A second survey that was undertaken by a graduate careers organisation known as Prospects showed that apprentices between the ages of 16 and 18 or those in their first year should be paid at £3.50 an hour as a minimum, but 10-13% were receiving less than this. The situation looked similar for over-25s in their second year. This group should be in receipt of £7.50 an hour, but they were being underpaid at an even higher percentage of 23-31%.
Prospects also discovered that half of the apprentices interviewed had carried out unpaid internships, which, due to the law being sketchy about pay rules and “useful work”, are easy for employers to demand..
These blurred lines have prompted a review into workers’ rights, encouraging the government to make the law clearer and ensure that it is enforced, to prevent employers from taking advantage of apprentices
More responses showed a lack of knowledge about apprenticeships from both employers and the apprentices themselves. The apprentices were unsure about their pay rates and legal hours as well as their training. There was a clear assumption and trust that their employers would simply pay them at the correct rate. However, research suggested that some employers were also unaware of the correct pay rates for apprentices, and others used unscrupulous methods to pay less than the legal rate.
Apprenticeships were designed to help people into employment, increase business productivity and boost the economy. As it stands, the concerns about unpaid work, illegal rates of pay and lack of knowledge are creating more problems for the government and the apprentices alike.
However, this year millions of pounds have been invested in the HMRC to help it to enforce the minimum wage and ensure employers are paying apprentices the wages they are entitled to. With this effort, and the increase in apprentice knowledge, the future of apprenticeships in the UK looks brighter.