All apprentices should be paid the national minimum wage, according to the TUC, which says more than half are currently exempt from it.
Apprentices under the age of 19 and older apprentices in their first year are currently not entitled to a national minimum wage.
The TUC is giving evidence to the Low Pay Commission today, proposing three new age-based hourly rates to protect those taking apprenticeships.
Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary, says: "When the Government introduced a minimum weekly pay rate for apprentices in 2005, employer groups warned it would scare businesses away from offering training places.
"In fact the reverse happened – apprenticeship starts went up and so did the proportion of apprentices completing their course.
"But enforcement of the weekly rate is weak. Some employers are exploiting apprentices by paying as little as £2 an hour and sometimes nothing at all. This often causes trainees to drop out as they can’t afford to continue and it damages the reputation of apprenticeships."
The TUC is proposing:
· £3-£3.18 for 16-17 year olds
· £4.05-£4.29 for 18-20 year olds (19 and 20, first year of apprenticeship only)
· £4.87-£5.15 aged 21 and above (first year of apprenticeship only)
It is thought as many as 14,000 apprentices would be better off by the change in rates, mostly females and those in low paying sectors, such as early years education and hairdressing.
The TUC is not seeking to change the rates of those already entitled to the national minimum wage, as this could make them worse off. It is, however, calling for all apprentices to be paid for training that is required for the job.
Any change in rates could only come into effect by next October at the earliest, by which time the TUC says the economy will be on the road to recovery.
"By making sure that all apprentices are entitled to an hourly minimum wage, the Low Pay Commission can prevent exploitation, improve the quality of apprenticeships and help to ensure that more people complete their course," adds Mr Barber.
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