Hundreds ‘fail’ to comply with wage rule

High street fast food business Subway was among hundreds of employers on the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) website advertising jobs that paid less than the national minimum wage, FE Week has discovered.

The legally-required amount that employers must pay apprentices went up 3p to £2.68 on October 1.

But many jobs — with start dates well into the month — were being advertised on the website at the old rate.

 There needs to be some serious thought about how people will be attracted to taking up an apprenticeship when wages are just £2.68 an-hour.”

Two such posts were with Subway and were for “customer service apprentice/sandwich artist” in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

The one-year apprenticeships would have paid £79.50 for 30 hours’ work — which equates to £2.65 an-hour.

A Subway spokesperson told FE Week the advert had been produced from out-of-date records. It has since been amended to £80.40 a-week — which equates to £2.68 an-hour.

She said: “All our stores are independently owned and operated by franchisees. As part of their franchise agreement, franchisees are responsible for all employment matters.

“Franchisees are required to comply with employment law when recruiting, contracting and in all dealings with employees.”

A NAS spokesperson said: “Training organisations, employers and apprentices have been made aware of the [minimum wage] increase.”

However, on the day the minimum wage went up there were more than 600 NAS website adverts, some with multiple apprentice posts, where employers would break the law.
Possible start dates for the underpaying posts ran right up to October 28.

Joe Vinson, National Union of Students vice president for FE, said: “It is scandalous that companies offering apprenticeships may be offering below a wage that is already incredibly low.

“Apprenticeships should offer an opportunity to gain valuable skills and an insight into the reality of the workplace, as well as enabling you to study for qualifications to further your future.
“However, there needs to be some serious thought about how people will be attracted to taking up an apprenticeship when wages are just £2.68 an-hour.”

Just over a month ago the government announced it would be making it easier to name-and-shame underpaying apprentice bosses.

The clampdown, which applies to non-apprentices too, came into effect this month. It comes in addition to financial penalties, of up to £5,000, employers face if they fail to pay adequately.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, told FE Week: “The significant minority of employers who dodge the minimum wage have not only ripped off young apprentices, they are also tarnishing the apprenticeship brand that government, unions and employers have so worked so hard to revitalise in the last decade.”

According to the Low Pay Commission annual report this year, data suggests that more than 27 per cent of apprentices were paid less than their minimum wage last year, compared with 20 per cent in 2011.

Non-compliance, it added, appeared most prevalent among employers of young apprentices — 40 per cent of all 16 to 17-year-old apprentices were thought to be paid less than £2.65 an-hour, and 25 per cent of all 18 to 20-year-old apprentices were thought to be on less than £2.65 an-hour.

Meanwhile, the government’s apprentice pay survey for 2012 is yet to be published. A spokesperson at the Department for Business, Innovations and Skills said: “The survey has no set date and will be published in due course.”