Apprentices: employed, but at what price?

Guest Post

Legal 4 Landlords
www.leadersinlaw.co.uk
08/07/2013

Apprentices are usually fixed term contracts in which the apprentice expects and agreed amount of training. For this reason, apprentices are usually exempt of being made redundant (unless the company closes down).

But what about their other employment rights?

For school leavers, making the decision about what you want to do with your life can be an incredibly daunting one. University was a popular option, but recent rises in tuition fees mean that some people have been put off going. School leavers sometimes want to get out earning money from the time that they sit their last exam, but this cannot always be the best option for long-term career qualifications. For this reason, more and more young people are attracted to applying for an apprenticeship, because it allows them to earn a wage and also benefit from comprehensive training. Whilst this vocational training it likely to be paid at a rate less than the minimum wage, as industry qualifications are also included, apprentices need to be clear about exactly what their rights are, with regards to the law. We’ve all seen the TV show, ‘The Apprentice,’ where Alan Sugar fires the weakest employee, but the only similarity with the TV show is the name.

apprentice employment lawTraditionally, an apprenticeship was a contract of employment, to train an individual in the necessary skills for a qualification or job role: modern apprenticeships, available today, are often comprised of the employer, the individual and the Government, who might contribute some funds to the training. The apprentice is required to work for 16 hours a week or more, and also to attend college. Apprenticeships are usually for a fixed duration, usually between one and four years, and should still include a contact outlining the rights and responsibilities of both parties. As the apprentice has a contract of employment, they also have the same rights as other employees, regarding protection for things like unfair dismissal and protection against discrimination. The apprentice, rather than having less rights, often has more than typical employees because there are also expectations of training involved. So, what are these rights?

  • Apprentices are not usually sacked, unless for cases of gross misconduct, which might involve behaviour like habitually refusing to do certain tasks: the grounds for dismissal for gross misconduct are much narrower than for non-apprentice employees. Apprentices are generally exempt from redundancy, unless the workplace closes down. The implications of an apprentice being sacked unlawfully can be expensive, as damages are usually higher than for unfair dismissals because they include loss of training and status.
  • Moreover, apprentices are entitled to their own scale of minimum wages, which starts at £2.60 per hour for the under 19s. They are also entitled to statutory sick pay, unless they have been on the apprenticeship for less than three months, and they are also not generally recommended to have their apprenticeship terminated for incapacity: rather, it is suggested that the apprenticeship be deferred. Enhanced sick pay may be available, at the employer’s discretion.
  • In terms of breaks, apprentices are entitled to the same amount of breaks as employees as they come under the Working Time Regulations of 1998, like an employee would: a twenty minute break for every six hours worked. This is regardless of any day release for college that apprentices might have. For the under 18’s, who may work for up to 40 hours a week, and the over 18’s, who can work up to 48 hours a week, the law protects the same as it would for any other employer.
  • Apprentices are also protected from discrimination, as would be expected. There is no reason to believe that you should be given the worse jobs, or treated any differently, as an apprentice. Moreover, if there are specific issues of discrimination then, like any employee, the employer has a legal right to protect you from them.

Despite this legal protection, some apprentices have reported horror stories such as:

  • Some apprentices have been paid only £25.00 for working a 40 hour week!
  • Some employers have not paid apprentices for their college hours.
  • Some apprentices have been denied the chance to take holidays
  • Being told that they cannot leave work to go to college.
  • Having to pay for their own college course, from their wages.
  • Working for up to 70 hours a week!

So, what do you do if you find yourself in one of these situations?

In the first instance the cheapest and least likely to create a difficult atmosphere, would be to speak to your manager and express your concerns. If you have done this and it has failed to make any difference, or you feel unable to speak to your manager, or you no longer work at the company, then a sensible step would be to consult a solicitor.

Many law firms, such as Leaders in Law provide free “first advice” (usually a telephone call directly with a lawyer) to give you some basic advice and help you to decide what would be the best course of action (if any) to take. Leaders in Law is particularly experienced in employment law, and would be well placed to advise you further.

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