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Apprenticeship Minimum Wage

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

6. What recent estimate he has made of the number of apprentices being paid below the apprenticeship minimum wage. (901449)

The Government have overseen one of the most successful expansions of apprenticeships, with about 1.5 million apprenticeship starts since 2010. However, we are concerned that the level of non-compliance with national minimum wage rules, which the 2012 apprenticeships survey shows to be 27%, remains too high. The Government have zero tolerance for employers who break the law. That is why we have introduced a range of enhanced enforcement measures to crack down on such rogue employers.

I thank the Minister for her answer. It is certainly worrying that the proportion of apprentices who are not receiving the apprenticeship minimum wage has increased and that one in four apprentices do not receive it. What firm and decisive action is she taking to clamp down on the rising non-compliance of employers with the apprenticeship minimum wage, especially given that the number of young people aged 16 to 18 who are starting apprenticeships has fallen?

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that the Government are concerned about and are acting on. From 1 July, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has prioritised complaints about the apprenticeship minimum wage to ensure that it brings proper enforcement against employers who are not paying it. Further, we have made it much easier to name and shame employers who do not pay the minimum wage. We have also announced that we will increase the maximum penalty fine to £20,000. That tough programme of enforcement action should help to ensure that businesses pay their workers properly. That is what the public expect and it is what most responsible businesses already do.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the number of apprenticeships in my constituency of Harlow has increased by more than 80% in the past year? Will she congratulate the Harlow and district chamber of commerce and the businesses who are hiring apprentices and paying them proper apprenticeship wages? Will she also welcome the new university technical school, which is, in essence, a pre-apprentice school that will provide young people with skills?

I happily offer those congratulations, and I add to them my congratulations to my hon. Friend for the unfailing way in which he has championed apprenticeships, not just in his constituency, but in this House by encouraging many Members to take on apprentices in their offices. It is important to ensure that young people have such opportunities. That is why the Government have invested significantly in expanding apprenticeships so much.

Does the Minister accept that companies such as Wetherspoon, which will open shortly in my constituency, are taking on young people on zero-hours contracts?

The hon. Gentleman is right that many workers are employed on zero-hours contracts. In some cases those can work well, but in other cases there are concerns about abuse. That is why the Department has undertaken a fact-finding exercise, and we will shortly launch a consultation on what action can be taken to ensure that such contracts are not abused.