The apprentice minimum wage remains “shockingly low” despite an increase that kicks in on Monday, the National Union of Students said.

The figure is going up 5p to £2.65 an-hour for apprentices under 19, and for those aged 19 and over in the first year of their apprenticeship.

That’s £1.03 less than the rate for 16 and 17-year-old workers, and £2.33 less than what 18 to 20-year-olds get.

Meanwhile, the main rate — for workers aged 21 and over — has gone up 11p to £6.19.

Toni Pearce, NUS vice president with responsibility for FE, said “The disparity in the existing minimum wage on the basis of the employee’s age bracket is discriminatory and based on the questionable claim that younger workers are less productive than older ones,” she said.

Nearly half of the hairdressing group earned less than the minimum wage they should have received”

“This is particularly odd when the evidence of the Low Pay Commission suggests the national minimum wage can be viewed as an efficiency wage, motivating workers, and provides a yet another argument in favour of equalisation.

“The £2.65 minimum is shockingly low, particularly given that many apprentices work full-time without taking days off for college.

“If the government is serious about apprenticeships, it should recognise that forcing young people to choose between this paltry wage and the prospect of full-time employment at the minimum wage is bound to put people off.

“Ministers should be promoting the good practice of the many employers who pay well above this rate.”

She added: “Enforcement of the minimum wage for apprentices is also a serious problem. Five per cent of respondents to BIS’s own 2011 pay survey said they didn’t receive any pay at all, and nearly half of the hairdressing group earned less than the minimum wage they should have received.”

However, John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, had attacked the rise in March.

“While the pressures of inflation are hurting many people, especially the lowest-paid, this decision adds significantly to the cost of doing business, and feeds wage inflation at higher levels,” he said.

Fred Grindrod, apprenticeships policy and campaigns officer at the TUC’s learning and skills, unionlearn, said: “The apprentice rate has now been established without generating any detrimental side-effects.

“The number of apprentices has continued to increase. Given the strong growth in this sector and the value that apprentices generate for employers, we believe that there is room for more significant increases in this rate.”