Dear Comrade is Megaphone's advice column, where union members and officials respond to your questions about work, activism, and the world. Submit your question here.
I’m overjoyed to report that my son has been accepted into an electrical apprenticeship! Ever since he was little he was a very hands-on kind of kid and I know he’s going to be great at it.
I’m a proud parent, but I’m also a little hesitant because he’s still young, hasn’t ever had a job before, and his boss hasn’t had many apprentices before either. I’m conscious I’m putting a lot of trust in someone we barely know and I’ve heard a few horror stories from friends and family about young apprentices getting exploited and not knowing their rights.
I’ve warned him about the classic “left-handed screwdriver” gag, but what other things should he be aware of going into this exciting new phase in his life?
Proud As Punch
Hi there Proud!
That’s really great to hear about your son getting accepted. Going from the classroom to a workplace is a huge step, but it sounds like he’s got a lot of support at home, which is already a great start. Here are some quick tips.
Make sure he gets a contract before he starts - you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen, and if the work isn’t documented properly, he won’t be able to get credits towards his qualification. The contract should specify his work hours, pay rate and allocated TAFE hours.
Tell him to join his union. He’ll be covered by the Electrical Trades Union who do a great job of looking out for apprentices on site. Make sure he signs up in advance so he’s covered from day one. Also - they have special apprentice rates. The union will have his back, and that should be a huge weight off your mind and his.
He needs to know that he has the right to be supervised and be given quality on-the-job training. It’s so important for health and safety, but also to make sure he learns the right way. If he’s being left alone, or being asked to do tasks he hasn’t been properly trained up in, that’s not OK - and it’s important your son knows he has rights. He can call the Young Workers’ Centre or his union to get advice on how to deal, if that’s happening.
Encourage your son to document all the hours he’s worked, and show him how to check his pay slip to make sure he’s being paid correctly. This is a life skill that will last him well beyond this one apprenticeship! If he’s being asked to work overtime, then he won’t be getting paid the same amount per week - so he needs to meticulously log the hours he works and understand that overtime hours are paid at a higher rate. Also - make sure he checks that the super listed on his pay slip is actually being paid into his super fund. It’s an unfortunate truth that apprentices experience rampant wage theft across all industries, and even though wage theft is now a crime in Victoria, it is vital that young workers know their rights and entitlements to hold bosses to account.
Your son should also know that his TAFE fees should be paid in full by the employer. If you find he is paying a single cent, the employer is failing their responsibilities. It’s that simple.
Your son should also be granted release time for study and to attend TAFE. This study is just as important as his hands-on work on site, so it’s so important he’s getting the proper time for it.
You obviously can’t be there in the workplace to fight your son’s battles for him - so it’s important that he knows what his rights are so he can raise any concerns in the workplace himself. Even better, if he and his coworkers are in the union together, there might be issues that they can raise collectively. He needs to know that he doesn’t need to say yes to everything, and he absolutely has the right to refuse to do unsafe work.
An apprenticeship can be a fantastic opportunity to learn on the job and set a strong foundation for an exciting vocation.
Young Workers Centre
PS. In addition to the left-handed screwdriver, tell him to also be aware of the long-weight joke.
Dear Comrade, I’m overjoyed to report that my son has been accepted into an electrical apprenticeship! Ever since he was little he was a very hands-on kind of kid and I know he’s going to be great at it. I’m a proud parent, but I’m also a little hesitant because he’s still young, hasn’t ever had a job before, and his boss hasn’t had many apprentices before either.