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135,000 apprentices in England are being paid less than the apprentices’ minimum wage, the TUC has found.

The national minimum wage for apprentices under 19 and those in the first year of their apprenticeship is just £3.50 an hour. But today’s figures show 1 in 7 (15%) of the 900,000 apprentices in England are being paid less than that very low rate.

The figures come as part of the TUC’s Young Workers’ Month, held throughout November.

Enforcement: few prosecutions and limited data

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, the government have prosecuted “fewer than five” employers who failed to pay the Apprentice Minimum Wage, between January 2016 and June 2017.

Minimum wage cases are, however, typically resolved through fixed penalties rather than prosecutions. But the government refused an FOI request to find out how many employers were given a fixed penalty because of underpayment of the minimum wage for apprentices.

What is known is that over a quarter (26%) of minimum wage cases involve apprentices, despite them making up only 3% of employees.

Chair of the TUC Young Workers’ Forum Craig Dawson submitted the FOI requests. He said:

“£3.50 per hour is a shockingly low wage, and the evidence shows that too many apprentices aren’t paid even that.

“The government is failing in its duty to protect apprentices from bad bosses who exploit them.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Thousands of apprentices are getting shafted on pay day. Their minimum wage is only £3.50, yet some Scrooge-like bosses are failing to pay even that measly amount.

“Good apprenticeships can really kickstart a career. That’s why we need to make sure every apprentice has a worthwhile experience on decent pay.

“These figures show why government needs to step up enforcement of the minimum wage – especially for apprentices.”

Editors note

- Craig Dawson, chair of the TUC Young Workers’ Forum, submitted two Freedom of Information requests. The first found that there had been fewer than five prosecutions between 1st January 2016 and 19th June 2017.

The second request, which asked for the number of apprentices involved in enforcement cases, was refused on the grounds of cost. The TUC is calling for this second figure to be made available in future.

- According to figures from the House of Commons Library, there are 900,000 apprentices in England. The Low Pay Commission estimated that 15% of apprentices were paid less that the minimum wage, revising data from the BEIS Apprenticeship Pay Survey 2016 (which found that 18% of apprentices were underpaid).

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