General Manager for Workplace Relations at Master Electricians Australia , Jason O’Dwyer says that the ACTU’s apprentice wage test case with Fair Work Australia, supported by the Electrical Trades Union this week would make it simply unaffordable for contractors to hire and train apprentices.
In response to ACTU President Ged Kearney’s call for a hike in apprentice wages to up to double the existing levels, Mr O’Dwyer said that it would destroy the apprenticeship system and put an end to training opportunities for young people in the electrical industry.
He explains that they share ACTU’s concerns about trades shortages and training drop-out rates, but believes that hiking the cost to small businesses is not the answer.
Mr O’Dwyer elaborates that the Resources sector cannot and will not create enough apprenticeships due to the fact that they can’t provide the breadth of work needed to ensure apprentices achieve the full range of competencies required to complete electrical work in a variety of areas including domestic, commercial, refrigeration, maintenance, LPG and instrumentation.
Most apprentices start off at small electrical contractors with up to 30 staff members where they have multiple service streams, providing the apprentices the opportunity to gain the required experience and competency to become fully qualified and licensed electricians.
The ACTU’s proposed wage rise would make apprenticeships unviable for many of these smaller operators, particularly considering that those businesses also subsidise the tools, TAFE time, uniforms, safety equipment and other costs of their employees while they are being trained. In the event the wages for apprentices are increased, many businesses will choose to hire more experienced workers instead.
Mr O’Dwyer said industry figures showed that even at existing pay rates, apprentices did not become profitable for at least two and a half years. Therefore, increasing wages would make employing an apprentice even more difficult and costly.
Instead of a massive wage hike, Mr O’Dwyer calls for a Productivity Commission enquiry into the apprenticeship cost and funding structure, looking at state, federal and employer costs, the training system and the overall return to employees over their careers.