Starting out in any new field of study or work can be a daunting experience. You will encounter lots of unfamiliar terms and new concepts. In this section, we cover the key information you need to know to give yourself a flying start.
"Every day I turn up to work, I know that I'm going to work with an A-Grade - and although the company moves us around to learn new skills and techniques, I know my job is safe. I don't worry about packing my tools up every day because tomorrow I might be shipped somewhere else. I'm at the same job site, with the same people, and I've got an extremely supportive company."
Bree, Direct employment
An apprenticeship is four years of on-the-job training. During three of those years, you attend trade school, either one week each month or one day each week.
At the end of your apprenticeship, you are required to pass three examinations, one of which is theory-based, with the other two practically based. Upon successful completion of these exams (provided that all other components of the apprenticeship are satisfactory), you are granted an A-Class licence on application to Energy Safe Victoria.
Apprentices do everything a qualified A-Grade electrician does, but only when:
- it’s safe
- they’re competent
- they are under supervision.
Apprentices are employed to learn, and going to trade school is every bit as much part of your work as turning up on site. And when you are at school, you get paid just the same.
The best way to learn about what to expect from an apprenticeship is to complete a pre-apprenticeship course. This provides basic theory and practical skills, and gives you a good insight into your chosen Electrical Trade. To learn more about what you can expect as an apprentice, or for more information about a pre-apprenticeship course, please speak to an ETU Organiser.
"As a first and second-year apprentice, you're very much working with an A-Grade. 90% of the time, you've got your A-Grade there."
2nd Year Contracting Apprentice
During trade school …
The core study for an Electrical Apprenticeship is the same for all industries, but during trade school you will need to choose specific electives that relate to the industry you want to work in.
To make life easier for apprentices, the ETU has negotiated:
- Travel Allowance
- Fares Allowance
- Living Away From Home Allowance
- Meal Allowance (EBA workplaces only)
- Adult Age Apprentice Allowance
It’s our job to make sure that you get what you deserve. If you are not receiving an allowance that you are entitled to, or if you are unsure of your allowance entitlement, please speak to an ETU Organiser.
"When you actually get out there, you realise all the perks and all these little extras of being in the Union. They look after your conditions really well."
4th Year Contracting Apprentice
A full-time apprentice generally works 40 hours a week – and depending on their workplace Agreement, could get paid for either 38, 36 or 35 hours. This means that the apprentice will enjoy either 1 or 2 rostered days off (RDOs) a month (plus one day of trade school a week for the first three years of your apprenticeship).
If you are eligible to get a RDO and have to go to trade school on your designated day off, you are entitled to another day off.
If you work longer than 40 hours in a week, you’re entitled to overtime. You also have a right to refuse unreasonable extra hours. Extra hours may be unreasonable where they impact on your health and safety or your family life.
All employees have a right to take breaks. These usually include:
- 30 minutes for a meal break, or in some instances a 60-minute meal break, every day;
- 10 minutes for a rest break before lunch; and
- 20 minutes after every 4 hours of overtime.
You are entitled to overtime/penalty rates when:
- You work more than your normal working hours;
- You work on the weekend;
- You work on a Public Holiday.
- 4 weeks (20 days) Annual Leave with a 17.5% leave loading, most industries
- 10 days per year of Personal/Carers Leave (there are also provisions for Bereavement Leave and Compassionate Leave)
- Jury Service
- 9% Superannuation (soon to increase, eventually to 12%)
Are you getting what you deserve?
If you’re not receiving your entitlements, or if you have any entitlement issues, speak to your ETU Organiser.
Apprentices are entitled to the following Industry Funds:
- Superannuation (see Cbus)
- Income Protection provided by Protect covers you outside of work, 24 hours a day. You may be entitled for Protect payments if you have suffered an injury or illness. You are only entitled to Income Protection cover if your EBA states it.
- Long Service Leave is paid by your employer, and is portable (so you don’t lose your entitlement if you change jobs).
"We've given a whole lot of benefits, and the people before us have fought hard for what we have now. Even just in comparison to other industries, we definitely have the best Union."
1st Year Contracting Apprentice
Need more info?
For more information about Industry Funds, please contact the Fund provider or speak to an ETU Organiser.
Wages and Awards
There are two rates of pay in the Electrical Industry in Victoria:
Apprentices on an EBA Rate earn almost double the Award Rate. The fact is that throughout your career you are going to receive better wages and conditions in an EBA workplace. The ETU has a successful history of getting EBAs into workplaces, and apprentice wages continue to increase as a result of EBA negotiations.
The ETU knows that the Award Rates of pay for apprentices are quite low, and is actively campaigning to have them increased. The goal of our ongoing campaign Stand Up for Apprentices is to increase the Award Rate and other entitlements for electrical apprentices. To get involved in this campaign or to learn more about rates of pay, please speak to an ETU Organiser.
"When I started my apprenticeship, I signed up with the Union at induction. Straight away, almost double the Award Rate. That's phenomenal. The wages alone mean it's a no-brainer."
Qualified Adult Apprentice
What about adult apprentices?
There are no Adult Apprentice Rates under the Award Rate. To receive the Adult Apprentice Rate, your employer must have an EBA.
Rights and Obligations
It’s very important that you understand your rights and responsibilities under a Training Contract (apprenticeship). A Training Contract has obligations that must be met by both your employer and you over a 4-year period.
Your employer must:
- Provide formal structured training
- Provide a safe working environment
- Have no discrimination or bullying issues
- Pay the right wages and allowances
- Allow you to attend TAFE.
As an employee, you must:
- Be available to work
- Attend work at the requested time
- Attend Trade School
- Work in a safe environment, and look after the employer’s assets and materials.
If either party is in breach of the obligations, the matter is referred to the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.
Should you want to leave your apprenticeship or your employer want to terminate your Training Contract, it must be by mutual consent. If there is no consent, then the matter is referred to the VRQA.
It is important to know that under the Education and Training Reform Act, you cannot have legal representation at the VRQA. However, you can be represented by the ETU, and we have a proud history of getting wins and delivering positive outcomes to our members.
The main contractual issues that apprentices encounter are unpaid wages, entitlements, allowances, superannuation, and unfair dismissals. If you experience any contractual issues, please speak to an ETU Organiser immediately. We often resolve issues with employers directly, and prevent a legal proceeding.
Profiling is the record of the on-the-job experience you have gained during your apprenticeship. Profiling is not a stand-alone assessment tool, but is part of the overall assessment process. It provides an essential part of your assessment for an Electrical Licence, issued by Energy Safe Victoria.
Each week, you must complete and submit a data card online that has been verified by your employer. You are responsible for maintaining your profile, and it’s important that you complete it carefully. Apprentices can run into difficulty on the matters of getting a variety of work or obtaining employers’ verification. If you have any issues regarding profiling, it’s important that you advise EPIC or speak to an ETU Organiser immediately.
"I was just happy to have a job. It was 'sign on the dotted line, and you've got a job'. I didn't really read it. You get run through it and explained to you and everything, but I wasn't really aware I was locked into a 4-year contract."
2nd Year Contracting Apprentice
Is your contract signed and registered?
Your Training Contract should be signed and registered within three months of starting your apprenticeship – but some dodgy employers ‘forget’ to register the paperwork, and then sack the apprentice once the work dries up. If you’re unsure about whether you’ve signed a training contract or if it’s been registered, contact an ETU Organiser.