Workplace Rights of Apprentices

Apprenticeships are a key part of the development of the work force in many industries. As such, it is important for both potential employers and apprentices to know their rights. While the workplace rights of apprentices are governed under state-based legislation, such as the Apprenticeship and Traineeship Act 2001 (NSW), there are some general rules that apply to their rights in all states.

Who is an apprentice?

Before identifying the workplace rights of apprentices, it is important to clarify the requirements of apprenticeships.

Firstly, anyone who is old enough to work may qualify for an apprenticeship. Since high school students may qualify for apprenticeships according to this requirement, they may choose to complete a school-based apprenticeship, which includes their schooling.

Furthermore, apprentices have formal training contracts with their employers. These contracts are registered with the appropriate state-based apprenticeship authority. Accordingly, the appropriate authority in each state is as follows:

Significantly, apprenticeship qualifications combine work with study. Apprentices are to complete the training component of their apprenticeship with a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) like a TAFE institution. The apprenticeship usually takes 3-4 years in total to complete. Comparatively, a traineeship can be completed in 1-2 years. Apprentices may complete their apprenticeship on a full-time or part-time basis.

What workplace rights do they have?

Payment

Awards, such as the Restaurant Industry Award, can determine the minimum pay rates of apprentices. You may find the appropriate awards for your industry here.

However, registered enterprise agreements may displace awards. Find out more about making enterprise agreements here.

Additionally, the minimum pay rate will increase as an apprentice progresses through the stages of their apprenticeship. The pay increases may depend on time or competency.

For example, the Restaurant Industry Award increases the minimum pay rate according to the stage of the apprenticeship. An apprentice may progress to the next stage after attaining each quarter of the competencies of the training or after after each year of the apprenticeship, depending on whichever happens first. School-based apprentices are paid for a quarter of the hours worked each week.

Find out more about the pay increase requirements under different awards here.

Moreover, employers must pay apprentices for their training with their RTO. The payment requirements will differ depending on the award. This payment often involves the RTO’s training fees and textbooks. For example, the Restaurant Industry Award requires employers to “reimburse an apprentice for all fees paid by the apprentice themselves to a registered training organisation (RTO) for courses that the apprentice is required to attend, and all costs incurred by the apprentice in purchasing textbooks (not provided or otherwise made available by the employer) that the apprentice is required to study, for the purposes of the apprenticeship” as long as the apprentice is making satisfactory progress in the course.

Employers may also choose to pay the RTO directly instead.

Other entitlements and protections

Apprentices have the same minimum entitlements as other employees according to the National Employment Standards (NES). The NES provide for:

  • maximum weekly hours
  • requests for flexible working arrangements
  • parental leave
  • annual leave
  • personal leave
  • carer’s leave
  • compassionate leave
  • unpaid family and domestic violence leave
  • community service leave
  • long service leave
  • public holidays
  • notice of termination
  • redundancy pay
  • Fair Work Information Statements

Furthermore, standard workplace protections also apply to apprentices. Apprentices have a right to a safe workplace. In addition to the usual state workplace safety requirements, each state may require more stringent measures for apprenticeship training. For example, South Australia requires employers to comply with supervision guidelines.

Apprentices also have a right to a discrimination and harassment free workplace.

So what should you do?

If you are an apprentice and you think your employer is denying you your rights, you can follow the Fair Work Ombudsman’s (FWC) dispute resolution process. Additionally, you may find it helpful to consult an employment lawyer.

If you are an employer looking for apprentices, you may find our guide helpful. Since it is especially important to ensure that you can get it right from the start, it would be beneficial to make use of FWC’s resources. However, if you do find yourself in a dispute, it is important to get independent advice from a lawyer.

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