Union wins apprentices $250k in backpay

More than 20 apprentices had their Christmas come early this year, as ETU Lift Industry Organiser, Steve Diston, helped them uncover over a quarter of a million dollars in unpaid wages.

The apprentices were wrongly underpaid by lift giant Schindler, as the company mistakenly had them on the wrong rate for a number of years.

Steve made the discovery during the unions’ bargaining over a new enterprise agreement with the company. He said the case highlighted how important it was that every apprentice was in the union and clued up about the right wages and conditions that the trade had won over the years.

“It’s not enough to tick a box and forget about your rights at work. You’ve got to be alert and check your payslips with your workmates – sometimes an employer might not even realise they’ve got you on the wrong rate. It always pays to find out who your shop steward is and get to know them. Talk to your organiser.”

“I think it’s a timely reminder for apprentices to realise they’re part of the union. So often they don’t realise they should be a part of their union.”

ETU Victoria Secretary, Troy Gray, says the case highlights the importance of unions in combatting wage theft. Typically, it takes workers on their own 24 months to challenge an underpayment by an employer though the Federal Court.

“When workers have a strong union, they can win back stolen wages pretty quick. If you relied on Turnbull’s Fair Work Ombudsman, in most cases you’d be kissing your stolen wages and super goodbye. At best it will take two years and thousands in legal costs.”

He says this case shows that with an effective union you can get your money back in one afternoon. Unions have been increasingly critical of the Fair Work Ombudsman, which last year found over one in three businesses were underpaying apprentices under their watch. 

“These people did an audit of 822 businesses, and found 264 bosses cheating their apprentices. What did Fair Work do? They ‘cautioned’ 54 and sent five ‘infringement notices’. Five. I doubt a single one was taken to court.”

“Even after all that, they got back the workers $393,000 in two years – the ETU got back $250,000 in one afternoon. It pays to be union.”