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    Apprentices set for long stand-down

    7th March 2009, 6:00 WST

    Employers are putting apprenticeships on hold in record numbers, leaving many trainees without pay amid further signs the economic slowdown is biting.

    Education Department figures show that as of this week, 893 of 22,000 apprentices in WA had their training officially suspended, which means they are no longer indentured to their sponsor employer but would be reconsidered for work if the economy picked up.

    The previous record was 725 suspensions in mid-1999, which was a slightly higher proportion of overall apprenticeships.

    The cull of trainees comes as the number of first-year apprentices falls dramatically, almost halving this year to about 350 from 670 a year previously.

    Training Minister Peter Collier said yesterday the figures were “scary” but he expected new TAFE initiatives would help the suspended apprentices, including a program to recognise prior training when they apply for new jobs.

    “Those sort of figures are a wakeup call for us all that the economic downturn is with us and alive,” he said.

    WA Group Training Scheme has not suspended its apprentices but currently has 16 on paid down-time, some of whom have not worked on site since January because there are not enough employers willing to take them on.

    WA GTS chief executive Frank Allen called on the State Government to provide compensation for employers with apprentices because they were helping to prepare the workforce for when the economy picked up.

    WA GTS apprentice carpenter Matt Gerber said he had spent two weeks on down-time, filling his day at the office washing cars for colleagues, taking out the rubbish and shredding paper to help an animal shelter.

    The Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union will next week take an employer who it claims has suspended a trainee to the Apprenticeship Tribunal, in bid to gain access to the company’s financial records.

    Assistant secretary Jim Murie said the union hoped to prove its suspicion the employer had healthy profits and was able to maintain its apprentices.

    “We believe that this is a shortterm fix for companies in the downturn, but they should use some of the exorbitant profits they have been making over the past few years to carry these young people through,” he said.

    Mr Murie said many apprentices were angry because their employer had manipulated them to agree to a suspension in a bid to avoid paying entitlements.

    The union has sent letters to all members claiming that if they refused a suspension, the employer was required to continue paying their wages, at least until the dispute was settled by the Education Department.