Award Review Must Not Hurt Apprentices

building apprenticeship

A building and construction lobby group has called on Fair Work Australia to use a currently ongoing review of the modern award for apprentices and trainees to clarify the role of the states and territories in apprentice regulation.

The group has also attacked the union movement for pushing for unsustainable increases in apprentice wages and missing an opportunity to move apprentices toward competency-based regulation.

Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch says the line between modern award regulation and state and territory legislation needs to be clear in order to help protect young people’s jobs.

“The review of modern awards for apprentices and trainees is the perfect opportunity to clarify who has jurisdiction to govern apprentice regulation,” Harnisch says. “There is too much grey in whether modern awards can cover matters beyond merely setting wages and hours of work for apprentices and trainees.”

The review of the modern award for apprentices is part of a broader program of reviews to all modern awards currently being undertaken by Fair Work Australia. The review is a response to a requirement in the Fair Work Act that all modern awards be reviewed as soon as is practical.

Harnisch says the review needs to introduce sustainable models of wage progression to help protect apprentices and trainees.

building apprenticeship trainingBy contrast, he says, the construction union’s vision for modern award regulation would increase costs to employers and strain the industry’s capacity to train apprentices. For example, he says, a 10 per cent increase in the minimum wage would cut teenage employment rates by between one and three per cent.

Harnisch says government proposals to introduce competency-based wage progression for apprentices and trainees under modern awards is a good idea in principle, but further research was needed on exactly how this would be implemented.

He says the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union remains ‘stuck in the past’ in its opposition to this concept.

“The Commonwealth needs to tell the review Full Bench how competency based wage progression will work in practice and how the proposed arrangements will be integrated with State and Territory apprentice systems,” he says.

Harnisch suggests a wage progression plan based on competency would be effective, provided it came about following ample research and was introduced with all parties on board. He criticised the CFMEU for the ‘arbitrarily-devised’ wage increase scheme suggested in their review of the Building and Construction General On-Site Award.

“The unions have missed an opportunity to help apprentices move to competency based wage progression,” he says. “They have instead introduced an argument about wage increases, which must now become the primary focus of proceedings in Fair Work Australia.”

Harnisch says the modern award review should be implemented in a way that ‘[takes] into account who has jurisdiction over apprentice regulation.’

“The change must be implemented in a manner that benefits apprentices and trainees without adding costs which will work against many young people from getting jobs,” he says.

By Andrew Heaton
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