The General Secretary of the Connect Trade Union, Eamon Devoy, has warned that, “in the absence of any satisfactory Government response to our repeated representations for the removal of student service charges on apprentices we will be undertaking industrial action across the manufacturing sector, beginning with a national one day strike on Monday, November 2nd.
“These young workers are among the lowest paid in the country”, he said, “yet they pay tax, PRSI and USC on wages that are often below the national minimum wage. Demanding that they pay fees of up to €2,750 for student services that none of them need and hardly any use is indefensible. Nor are apprentices eligible to claim student grants.
“Nonetheless, they are prevented from working in the trades for which they have trained before paying these charges.
“We have notified 724 companies of our intention of holding a national strike. Where employers are paying these fees there will be no pickets placed but the obvious solution is for the Government to abolish these opportunist charges on apprentices.”
Mr Devoy said that CIF affiliated construction and contracting companies would be exempted from pickets for the moment as they had supported the Connect Trade Union call for the Government to rescind the charges. He added that there had been “a very positive response from craft workers across the manufacturing sector, who are determined to support out apprentices.”
He added that the fees were being applied in an “erratic, inconsistent and irrational way that flies in the face of the Government’s own youth employment policy. We have now reached the ludicrous stage where apprentices attending Institutes of Technology are forced to pay this levy while apprentices undertaking the same apprenticeship course in an Education and Training Board facility are not being charged. On top of this, the Department of Education is currently promoting up to 100 new apprenticeships without indicating if the new intake will have to pay the levy.
“The total income from the charge is €1.6 million a year, which constitutes an enormous burden on the young workers concerned but is insignificant in terms of the potential loss to the economy if our strike goes ahead on November 2nd, not to mention subsequent action. Unfortunately we have been lobbying for two years to remove this penal charge without result. We are now putting the Government on fair notice that we will be seeking to eliminate it by other means.”