Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Written Evidence

Memorandum 4

Submission from the Trades Union Congress (TUC)



  The TUC is a strong supporter of high quality Apprenticeships and welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee's inquiry into the Draft Apprenticeship Bill. The TUC is the voice of Britain at work and represents 6.5 million employees in 58 affiliated trade unions.

  The TUC welcomed the announcement in the Queen's Speech that an Apprenticeships Bill was to be introduced (see Annex 1). The TUC made a detailed submission in response to World Class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Buildings Skills for All, which is available at: The submission welcomed many of these developments, however identified some concerns and areas that could have been strengthened. This note provides an overview of issues in relation to the draft Bill, a more detailed view on the content of the Bill will be forthcoming.


  The TUC has welcomed the significant expansion of Apprenticeships over the last 10 years and believes that a renaissance is already well underway. The TUC supports the ambition to double the number of Apprenticeship places by 2020 and believes the draft Apprenticeships Bill will go some way towards meeting this target.

  The expansion in Apprenticeships must be on the basis of high quality, employer based places, with a commitment to build equality and diversity. Ensuring quality programmes and a quality experience are crucial for the reputation of Apprenticeships. Quality in Apprenticeships is inextricably linked to the reputation of the brand and the TUC strongly believes that efforts to boost quality will have a positive impact on take-up of the programme, as both employers and learners will want to engage in high quality programmes.

  More clearly defining the Apprenticeship experience is potentially an important step towards building quality across programmes. Clarifying what is contained in an Apprenticeship through standards to develop a more comprehensive vision of quality in Apprenticeships would be welcome. Further, clarifying expectations such as the on and off the job training to be delivered and the supervision required through an Apprenticeship Agreement could also help boost the Apprenticeship experience.

  However, the TUC would be concerned if the Apprenticeship Agreement were to place additional or more onerous duties on apprentices than are expected of employees through implied and express terms contained in the average contract of employment. The TUC is opposed to any weakening of apprentice rights to unfair dismissal protection or any other employment rights. The TUC had supported the principle established in the Flett v Matheson case by the Court of Appeal that where an employer does not wish to continue to provide an Apprenticeship place there should be an obligation to try and find an alternative placement. Apprentices sacrifice earnings in order to develop their skills and therefore should have some guarantee that they are able to complete their programme. Employers shouldn't be able to end an Apprenticeship without taking some steps to ensure that the apprentice completes their training.

  In relation to increasing the number of employer based Apprenticeships, TUC has concerns that while the Bill could improve Apprenticeship quality and boost the availability of places, it is unlikely to go far enough to achieve the challenging target of 400,000 Apprenticeships by 2020. In particular, the TUC believes there should be a greater use of levers to increase both public and private sector involvement in Apprenticeships such as the use of public procurement, sector levies and licence to practice arrangements. These are outlined in more detail in the TUC submission to World Class Apprenticeships.

  The TUC has highlighted the important role of improving apprentice pay in boosting both quality and equality in Apprenticeships. The TUC welcomed recent announcement from the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills that the minimum rate for apprentice pay in England will be lifted to £95 per week. The TUC has also recently made a submission to the Low Pay Commission's review of the existing exemption of apprentices from the national minimum wage. The submission demonstrates the link between pay, quality and completion rates, including the need for apprentices to be able to afford to complete their programme. It is argued that removing the exemption and paying a decent rate will raise quality and completions and help narrow the gender pay gap in Apprenticeships. The full submission is available at

  The TUC believes there should be greater recognition of the role of joint employer-trade union activities around Apprenticeships, which is an important mechanism for boosting demand for Apprenticeships. While World Class Apprenticeships outlines that trade unions will be involved in the development of the new blueprint, or Apprenticeship standards, trade unions can play a wider role in developing Apprenticeships. This role for unions was identified in the recent OECD report `Jobs for Youth', which recommended that the Government should:

    ...ensure more involvement of unions in the design of new qualifications with a work-based component. In countries with a long tradition of apprenticeship training, unions are a key player alongside employers and the institutional actors. In Germany, unions have been instrumental in securing action from employers when apprenticeship places have proved to be insufficient to meet demand. In England, unions should be involved in the design of apprenticeships and other work-based learning initiatives alongside Sector Skills Councils (OECD, 2008).

  In responding to World Class Apprenticeships, the TUC also identified a concern about a lack of clarity in arrangements for monitoring quality. There was a reference in the Queens Speech 2007 to quality inspection, and the TUC believes this issue should be revisited. This is an area that trade unions should also have a role in. The TUC is however concerned about proposals around `bureaucracy busting' around Apprenticeships. Efforts to expand Apprenticeships should not be at the expense of quality and standards, and external inspection arrangements play a key role in ensuring a safe and healthy working environment (see Annex 2).

September 2008

Annex 1


  Commenting on the Draft Apprenticeships Reform Bill in today's Queen's Speech, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

    "The TUC welcomes measures to improve the number of apprenticeships on offer to young people starting out in the world of work and to older workers looking for a change of direction. More must be done to encourage employers to take on more young black and Asian people, and greater efforts are needed to support women into apprenticeships in areas like engineering and construction that are still dominated by the boys.

    "If apprenticeships are to offer meaningful career opportunities, they must be of good quality, where apprentices are treated well and earn a decent wage. Legislative powers to regulate and promote apprenticeships give the opportunity to do just that, and it is important we get it right. The Government should ask the Low Pay Commission to review the current minimum wage exemptions that apply to apprentices."

November 2007

Annex 2

  TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: "Quality and standards in apprenticeships must not be compromised in the name of `bureaucracy busting'.

  "There is nothing wrong with making the best use of technology and ensuring processes are `joined up', but external inspection plays a key role in ensuring that apprenticeship quality is up to scratch.

  "Too many apprentices have already lost their lives due to inadequate safety standards. Instead of basing requirements for apprentices on employers' existing health and safety systems, the Government should acknowledge that many of these systems are totally inadequate—hence the high injury and illness rate amongst young people starting work.

  "Any organisation employing apprentices must have good health and safety practices and fully comply with the law, and the Government should be stepping up employer involvement in apprenticeships."

August 2008

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