The Electrical Trades Union has claimed victory on behalf of apprentices after the Federal Court handed down a ruling that affects thousands of apprentices in Queensland who have been illegally paid wages of less than $9 per hour under an expired award.
The Fair Work Commission had twice ruled in the apprentices’ favour, but the decisions were appealed by The Housing Industry Association, group training outfit All Trades Queensland and Master Builders Queensland to the Federal Court.
Electrical Trades Union Queensland apprentice officer Scott Reichman said that today’s decision would open the door to wage claims from thousands of underpaid apprentices who were collectively owed more than $100 million.
“Employers across Queensland thought that they could exploit loopholes in our broken workplace laws to short-change already low-paid workers,” Mr Reichman said.
“For years, apprentices in Queensland have been paid less than those in every other state because of this kind of underhanded behaviour.
“Today’s ruling means that we can seek wage justice for these young people.”
The long-running case began in 2015 when the Fair Work Commission ruled that All Trades Queensland’s apprentice agreement should be measured against the modern award of $13.07 an hour, not the state award of $8.75. The practical effect of that ruling was to render the state award dead and buried in 2014 and to confirm the modern award as the minimum standard for apprentice pay.
The full bench of the commission upheld that ruling, before All Trades and its associated employer groups appealed to the Federal Court.
Electrical Trades Union national apprentice officer Mark Burgess said the actions of employer bodies to attempt to deny Queensland apprentices a living wage were reprehensible.
“What goes through someone’s head when they decide to pay a team of lawyers thousands of dollars a day to argue for their right to employ an apprentice on eight bucks an hour?”
“It’s despicable, shameless behaviour aimed at lining employer pockets at the expense of even the most basic living standards for Queensland apprentices and their families.”
The decision affects apprentices across all disciplines in Queensland including electrical, carpentary plumbing, mechanical and hair dressing.
Queensland apprentices who have been paid under the defunct state award are encouraged to register with the ETU at etu.org.au/apprenticebackpay/