Apprentices like yourself are the future of our industry. Your employment, training and safety remain a priority so we’ve put together some advice to ensure you know and can exercise your rights at work.
This advice should be read alongside other advice provided by the union about general pay and conditions matters, and health and safety, as well as advice available from governments, training providers, and your employer.
If you have any questions or need support, get in touch with Helpdesk.
- Know what’s in your training contract
- Your employer must discuss changes with you before making them
- Your apprenticeship may be extended or shortened
- What if you don’t feel ready to be assessed as competent?
- What if there isn’t enough work?
- What if you are stood down?
- Can you be asked to perform different duties?
- Can you be dismissed?
- What support is the government offering?
As an apprentice, your training contract is a contract between you and your employer for employment and training for the duration of your apprenticeship. Once you have completed your probationary period, the contract cannot be terminated without the approval of the relevant state/territory apprenticeship authority unless both you and your employer agree to terminate it.
Your training contract outlines your rights and obligations as well as those of your employer. These rights and obligations are in addition to those that apply to all workers.
Your training contract should identify the duration of the contract, the trade, the qualification you will study, the hours of work, who will deliver and assess your progress, how and when the training will be delivered, and the award or enterprise agreement that will specify other conditions of employment such as wages, penalty rates, leave etc.
Beyond the rights conferred specifically under a training contract, the rights of apprentices are no different to the rights that apply to all employees.
Some employers may try to use COVID-19 as an excuse to terminate your apprenticeship, stand you down from your apprenticeship without pay, suspend your apprenticeship, reduce your hours of work, or rearrange your training schedule or even prevent you from attending your training.
These things cannot be done without discussion because your training contract confers special rights upon you as an apprentice.
Your apprenticeship lasts for the period nominated in the contract, usually four years. Most apprenticeships allow for the period of an apprenticeship to be extended or shortened depending on your progress, or in certain circumstances like if you break a leg or need time off to care for a partner or a sick child.
It’s possible for apprentices to be assessed as competent tradespeople before the nominal period. However, in the current circumstances, we are concerned that some employers may be tempted to have you assessed as competent before you’re ready so they can say that you have successfully completed your apprenticeship, then terminate your employment without your agreement.
It may of course be the case that you are a competent tradesperson. If that’s the case, well done and welcome to your future!
What if you don’t feel ready to be assessed as competent?
If you don’t believe that you are competent yet, or a person who you respect like your AMWU delegate, a tradesperson you work with or your parent or guardian believes that this is not the case, then you are entitled to question that suggestion.
To be completed, you must sign the contract off as well as your training provider and your employer. Do not sign if you are in doubt.
You can seek advice from the state apprenticeship authority in your state or territory. Contact information should be listed in your training contract, otherwise look here.
If there is a shortage of work to practice your skills on, your employer may seek to “front load” classroom theory classes. This may have the advantage of being able to be delivered via technology like Zoom or WhatsApp. Remember, this sort of training must happen in paid time.
If your employer is instructing you to stay at home, then your employer should pay you as if you are at work. You cannot be made to take personal leave if you are not unfit for work because of an illness or injury.
You cannot be compelled to take annual leave without agreement. You may be directed to take excessive accrued annual leave, but this is unlikely in the case of an apprentice. If you do have excessive leave, then there are certain rules that apply before you can be forced to take it.
The Fair Work Act allows an employer to stand down employees if there is a ‘stoppage of work for which the employer cannot be held responsible’. A downturn in business does not automatically mean there are grounds for a stand down. If you are sent home, but your co-workers continue to work, that may not be a valid stand down, because there is still work to be done.
If the employer cannot have work done because of government orders, that may become a ‘stoppage’ but it will depend on the type of work, the nature of the government orders, and what the circumstances are.
You cannot be asked to do work other than what you have been employed to do. The terms of your employment are determined by the relevant EBA, award and your training contract.
In most states and territories apprenticeships are regulated by legislation. This generally requires that any variation to the training contract, including a change in the duties performed as specified in the training contract, must be applied for by either the employer, the apprentice or both. The changes must be approved. If there is a change to the nature of an employer’s business and it affects their ability to provide appropriate work for the apprentice and their ongoing traineeship, they must inform the relevant apprenticeship authority. This is true also if the employer becomes aware of anything else that could jeopardise the training contract.
There may be circumstances where you may be subject to dismissal. Dismissal is a very serious matter. Generally, dismissal is difficult to successfully dispute in cases where an apprentice has engaged in serious and wilful conduct such as violent behaviour or theft.
You are entitled to dispute an attempt by your employers to dismiss you. You should seek urgent advice from the AMWU if you are dismissed or at risk of dismissal.
If you are dismissed, it is not usual for apprentices be paid redundancy benefits unless this is provided for by another agreement, but you must be paid all your existing entitlements including any outstanding wages including overtime, any accrued annual or long service leave, and other payments/reimbursements associated with your apprenticeship including fees, travel costs to attend block release, and necessary textbooks.
The federal government has provided employer incentives to support apprentices and trainees.
The Boosting Apprenticeship Commencements wage subsidy supports businesses and Group Training Organisations to take on new apprentices by providing a wage subsidy paid to a new or recommencing apprentice or trainee for a 12-month period.
More information is available here.
The normal Commonwealth apprenticeship incentive program, Australian Apprenticeships Incentives Program (AAIP), is being replaced by a new subsidy program from 1 October 2021.
The new program is called the Incentives for Australian Apprenticeships (IAA).
More information is available here.
The Queensland Government also has its own incentives including a support payment of up to $20,000 for employers who recruit eligible unemployed jobseekers in regional Queensland. More information is available here.