Employers treat hospital apprentices as cheap labour, says union

Unison health chief says low-pay scandal will get worse without national agreement on pay rates

Unison has demanded apprentices in hospitals get a fairer deal on pay after obtaining figures revealing many are paid well below the national minimum wage.

In total, 147 (63%) of 233 NHS organisations surveyed by the union use minimum wage rates to pay health care assistants (HCAs). This means 37% had no accepted pay framework.

The data show HCAs receive between £2.73 and £8.32 an hour with the average being £3.92. The national minimum wage for an apprentice is £3.30 per hour.

In 2014-15 - the year for which full results were available - a band 1 employee working under Agenda for Change pay scales, received £7.31 in England and Northern Ireland, £7.70 in Scotland and £7.85 in Wales.

In its You’re Hired report, published this week, Unison reveals more than a third of hospitals are routinely treating on-the-job learners as cheap labour.

Jobs most often performed by apprentices are healthcare assistants, pharmacy workers and administrative posts.

The report also raises concerns NHS employers are failing to ensure staff on in-work training programmes either gain a recognised qualification or even complete their apprenticeships.

As a result of new government targets and a compulsory levy on employers, the number of apprentices taken on by trusts has soared from 2,196 in 2012-13 to 3,325 in 2014-15.

Head of health for Unison Christina McAnea, said: ‘This is a low-pay scandal and will get worse given the government’s push for the NHS to meet higher targets for hiring apprentices.

‘At the very least, we need a new national agreement on apprenticeship pay rates so the people on them get a fair deal and real career progression.’