Apprentice minimum wage ‘crackdown’ questioned

A government “crackdown” on apprentice minimum wage offenders has been queried with more than one-in-five apprentices not getting paid the legal amount.

Labour MP Julie Hilling put the statistic to Employment Relations Minister Jenny Willott in the House of Commons, pushing the Lib Dem MP about what action the government was taking to enforce the £2.68 an-hour minimum wage for apprentices.

“It is worrying that the proportion of apprentices not receiving the minimum wage has increased to more than one-in-five,” said Ms Hilling during a Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) questions session on Thursday (January 23).

The apprenticeships pay survey in 2012, published in October, found that 29 per cent of learners had not received the then legal minimum of £2.65 an-hour, a jump of 45 per cent on the year before.

Ms Willott said the government was “concerned” by the number of employers breaking the law, and that it had “zero tolerance” for offenders.

She said: “We have introduced a range of enforcement measures to crackdown on rogue employers. Since June 1, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [HMRC] has been prioritising complaints about non-payment on the national minimum wage.

“We also started an awareness campaign in November targeting schools and college so most young people starting apprenticeships are aware of what they’re entitled to.”

She further pointed to a letter from Skills Minister Matthew Hancock, sent out from October, to all learners at the beginning of their apprenticeship, informing them of the minimum wage.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has also pledged it will soon start naming and shaming employers who do not pay the national minimum wage, either for apprentices or for non-apprentice employees.

In his evidence to the Low Pay Commission, published last week, Business Secretary Vince Cable said it was hoped such negative publicity would deter employers from underpaying employees.

He said: “We are expecting to start naming employers early this year.”

Such employers would be the first named since a new scheme came in at the beginning of October.

Dr Cable said: “Under the original scheme, employers had to meet one of seven criteria plus a financial threshold before an employer could be referred to BIS from HMRC for naming.

“The revised scheme has removed these restrictions.”

The government had been criticised for failing to ensure all job adverts on the National Apprenticeship Service vacancy matching website showed the new minimum wage.

It was only last month — three months after the increase had come into force — that the system was amended to stop jobs adverts below the minimum wage.