||Issue No. 239||24 September 2004|
Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
I Say I Say I Say II
Vote Early, And Often
No Surplus Of Generosity
Toolbox Gimmick Threatens Awards
Fixing low apprentice wages and an underfunded TAFE system, rather than handing out tool boxes, is the key to fixing a $9 billion skills shortage, unions says.
"Most apprentices already receive an allowance of more than $1000 a year to buy and maintain their tools," says Sharan Burrow from the ACTU. "Toolkits for apprentices are a farcical response by John Howard to Australia's major skills shortage that could cost the economy $9 billion and is already seriously affecting businesses."
"The reason young people are not signing up for trades apprenticeships is because the wages rates are so low," says John Sutton, National Secretary of the CFMEU Construction & General Division. "Young people will not take up a trade apprenticeship when they are only paid around $250 per week for their first year and $315 for the second year, while their peers are bringing in double and triple that wage.
"Will the Coalition support our application for a wage rise for apprentices in the Commission and reverse its policy of 8 years' of backing employers' opposition to such wage rises?"
Awards To Be Stripped?
The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union says Howard's move raises more questions than it answers, questioning whether the Howard payment would mean employers could seek to strip this award right for all apprentices.
"Like much of what the Prime Minister says, it is safe not to take his words as the truth," says AMWU national president Julius Roe. "The Prime Minister has already cooked the figures to count young people working at McDonalds as apprentices."
Unions have accused the Liberal Party of dishonestly exaggerating the number of apprentices in training.
Official Government data shows that less than a third of the 400,000 apprenticeships the Howard Government claims it is currently supporting are actual trades apprenticeships.
The skills crisis has been compounded by TAFE funding has being frozen at 1997 levels despite a 16% jump in student numbers and unmet demand for up to 57,000 extra places.
"Although $800 for a tool kit may seem attractive, it is farcical if there are not enough apprenticeships or student places at TAFE," says Maree O'Halloran, President of the NSW Teachers Federation. "The Howard Government froze TAFE student enrolment growth funding, and failed to restore it in real terms."
Apprentice Funding Cut
The move follows news that Howard Government cutting funding to 11 utilities and electro-technology trades courses in NSW.
"We have a government that is actively undermining the trades by removing funding from trades courses," says ETU state secretary Bernie Riordan. "A free tool box might deliver a headline, but the real news is what this government is doing to the national apprentice system."
Riordan believes the cuts show that the Howard Government is not serious about increasing the number of apprentices.
"This is a looming national crisis that will take more than a tool box stunt to fix."
The Electrical Trades Union called on the Prime Minister to reverse the decision to recognise the courses, despite massive skills shortages in the area.
Job vacancies in the traditional trades have already risen 20% in the past year and are now at their highest level for 15 years.
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