Today TUC Congress voted overwhelmingly to mobilise and support apprentices, in a motion which was penned originally by PCS member Laura Bee and supported at TUC by our delegate Sarah Broad.
The importance of recruiting young people to trade unions has underscored many of the motions being discussed so far at TUC and no more passionately than in motion 74, which saw Congress agreeing to a 7-step plan of mobilisation for apprentices.
Sarah said: “It has been said that young workers are bearing the brunt of austerity, with increased university fees, cost of living increases, casualisation of their labour and housing benefits cut. This is disgraceful and this needs to change. Young people are our future."
“Apprenticeships are only adding to this hardship. These workers are being paid the minimum amount for a maximum amount of work,” she added.
“PCS is not opposed to apprenticeships, but we are opposed to low-paid exploitation of workers.”
The seven-point motion includes separate trade unions agreeing to ensure they have effective recruitment and organising plans for apprentices and asked that the TUC produce recruitment material on the issues faced by apprentices.
The TUC will also lobby government to make sure that good quality apprenticeships are made more accessible to young people, campaign for permanent jobs and fair conditions for all and campaign against the casualisation of apprentices
In moving the motion Andrew Baker of the TUC Young Workers’ Conference told delegates that although young people were associated with apprenticeships, more than 40% were actually over 25.
Apprentices receive a wage of £3.50 an hour, which has led unscrupulous employers to regard them as a way to undercut wages.
“This is a slave wage,” he said. “Employers should understand they are investing in the future of the labour force, not undercutting it.”
“In the sixth richest economy in the world it’s a disgrace that the apprenticeship system is one of the few viable routes into work for young people unless they want to work in low-paid, casual or zero-hour contract jobs,” supporting papers set out.
Government should sort out the mess
This “pay disgrace” was similarly underscored by Craig Dawson from, GMB, supporting the motion, who asked: “How can one of the richest nations arrive at a point where a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay is an alien concept?”
“We challenge this government to sort this mess out or we will,” he said to applause.
Indeed, the government pledge to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 could well be seen as a way to force a generation of young people into cheap labour with no real prospect of a permanent secure job, delegates heard.
The increased reliance on apprenticeships demonstrate further attacks on young workers who are expected to work long hours with low rates of pay in insecure jobs.
Mobilise the young
Speakers addressing Congress also raised that tackling the subject of apprenticeships also afforded unions with an opportunity to mobilise the younger generation.
Andrew Barker meanwhile argued that the “opportunity to engage young people might be a once in a lifetime opportunity”.
However, Thomas Butler from Unite made the distinction that unions “need to fight for those apprentices who are not in a recognised workplace.”
Andy Noble from the Fire Brigades Union set out that the number of young firefighters joining has diminished and said that “apprentices should be organised in trade unions. We want these young firefighters to benefit in the same way we have through our union.”