The Fair Work Commission has now finished hearing the ETU and other unions’ applications to improve wages and conditions for apprentices. The Full Bench reserved its decision.
Background: What We (And Others) Applied For
Increasing award wages has been central to the ETU’s Apprentice Campaign. To that end, as part of the two-yearly review of modern awards, the ETU applied to vary the Electrical, Electronic and Communications Contracting Award 2010 to:
increase award wages for junior apprentices from 40%/52%/70%/82% of the trade rate to 60%/65%/75%/90% of the trade rate;
provide that adult apprentices must be paid at no less than the lowest classification in the award and, if an apprentice is employed with the same employer prior to becoming an apprentice, be paid a wage no lower than the award rate applying to the classification in which they were employed;
require employers to pay for travel and accommodation costs associated with training; and
introduce new award obligations concerning mentoring, supervision, and recognition of service, as well as for the provision of two weeks’ notice prior to an employer applying to suspend or terminate a training contract.
The ETU also applied to increase apprentice wages and compensation for travelling to training under the Electrical Power Industry Award 2010 and the Telecommunications Services Award 2010, as well as to increase the lift industry allowance payable to apprentices under the Building and Construction General On-site Award 2010.
The ACTU, AMWU, CFMEU and CEPU – Plumbing Division also applied to vary other awards to improve conditions for apprentices.
A number of parties either applied to introduce competency based wage progression, or urged that it be introduced. The ETU strongly opposed any variation to awards to apply competency based progression to electrical apprentices.
The Australian Industry Group (AIG) applied to vary the National Training Wage Schedule in all awards to try and exclude any existing payments to trainees to cover costs incurred in travelling to training.
Employers / Commonwealth Government
The union applications were opposed by a wide range of employer groups including: the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), the Electrical Contractors Association (Master Electricians); the AIG; Master Builders Australia; the Housing Industry Association; Australian Business Industrial; the Motor Traders Association; the Master Plumbers NSW and Victoria; the Coal Industry Employer Group; all State chambers of commerce and industry; and the Australian Federation of Employers and Industry.
Applications were opposed on a number of very technical jurisdictional grounds and on the merits of the claims. NECA’s central argument was that, in the electrical contracting industry, the proposed increases, or any in fact increase, was not affordable.
The Commonwealth Government supported a “suitable increase” to junior apprentice wages, the introduction of rates of pay for adult apprentices and the union claims relating to employers paying for travel costs. Although the Commonwealth Government strongly supported competency based progression, it also supported an exclusion for electrical apprentices.
Material Before the Full Bench
All applications were heard together over some 22 hearing days. The case opened with oral submissions from Dave Oliver (ACTU Secretary); Peter Tighe; Andrew Dettmer (AMWU National President) and Dave Noonan (CFMEU – C&G Division Secretary).
ETU material in support came from all state branches and also included the Workplace Research Centre Report “The Changing Situation of Electrical Apprentices”. The ETU and NECA brought the largest amount of witness evidence, each with over twenty witnesses. Most parties also relied upon a substantial volume of survey results, research reports and other material.
What Result is Likely?
The Full Bench gave little express indication of its views on either the jurisdictional objections or the merits of particular claims. A best guess might be that the unions’ wage related claims have a better prospect of success than some of the non-wage claims. Any movement on wages appears likely to include a multiple entry wage rate for first year apprentices, for example the three level model based upon years of schooling presently contained in the Manufacturing and Associated Industries and Occupations Award 2010. There is some cause for optimism that an increase of some kind might be granted.
The Full Bench gave no indication of when a decision might be made. Again, a best guess might be that, given the very substantial volume of material before the Commission, a decision could be published in 6 to 8 weeks.
If the Fair Work Commission does grant substantial wage increases to apprentices, it is very likely that they will be transitioned.
It is proposed that the apprentice committee be reconvened to be given the opportunity for a more comprehensive report concerning the proceedings before the Full Bench and to plan the next stages of the Apprentice Campaign.