Little people matter too

1 December 2017

As far as I know Victor Hugo never wrote an apprentice into the story of Les Miserables but whilst I was reading Apprentice Pay – sticking to the rules I couldn’t help humming a few lines from Master of the House. It’s the bit in the middle; you know Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter pouring drinks and serving food.

“…Charge ’em for the lice
Extra for the mice
Two percent for looking in the mirror twice”

The song carries on and lists all the ways a sneaky Parisian inn keeper can fleece his customers. As apprentices, we know how the guests in the song feels. A little bit here and a little bit there and what started out seeming like a fair deal suddenly feels wrong. The report is a great, if slightly depressing, read. As we’ve been saying for a while, there are dozens of ways to rip off apprentices and some folk just aren’t playing fair.

Training

Apprenticeships mean training, right? Nope – wrong. We know thousands of apprentices are just not getting any training. Even if they are getting training, apprentices are going in on their day off to do it. Training should take place in work time. Apprentices should be paid for the time that they are at college or off doing training. It’s in the contract. But no, some employers are happy to have cheap labour and not pay for their apprentices’ training.

Qualifications

Now this one has to be easy. Do an apprenticeship and get a qualification. Nope, snip. Some employers have developed apprenticeships without qualifications. Of course, employers are still getting funding for these apprenticeships, there’s just no qualification for the apprentice at the end of it.

Pay

Surely even the Thernardiers wouldn’t skimp on the wages of someone they’ve got working for just £3.50 an hour? Nope, think again. As the report highlights, there are industries and sectors where underpayment is disturbingly common.

Master of the House might be the funniest song in the musical but there are better ones. Some of my friends like “Do you hear the people sing” with its stirring calls for change. I could say that I feel on my own without someone to complain to about this or that at the end of the day we just want something for something. I’ll admit I quite like little Gavroche singing his cheeky song about little people working together and remembering who treated them badly (in the musical not the film – we’re talking proper fandom here) reminding the big lads that the “little people” matter too.

Simon Hawthorn, apprentice, on behalf of National Society of Apprentices