The National Union of Students (NUS) stepped into the debate on the minimum wage by criticising the recent 5p pay rise for apprentices earning the minimum wage. The wage, which is the minimum amount apprentices can be paid, rose from £2.68 to £2.73, a total rise of just 5 pence, while wages for adults in employment rose by 19p and wages for 18-20 year olds rose by 10p.

In a press release, the NUS attacked what it called the ëpoverty payí, highlighted by such a small rise and called for a clampdown. Toni Pearce, NUS President stated: “Apprenticeships create fantastic opportunities for both apprentices and employers, but itís high time they were awarded a decent pay rise”.

She also claimed that the ‘meagre’ pay on offer to apprentices would be a deterrent to the young people wanting to take up apprenticeships across the country. However, government figures suggest that since 2011 over one million people have taken up apprenticeships; a figure higher than in the three academic years prior.

The NUS is backing this month’s ‘Britain Needs a Pay Rise’ campaign organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which will hold a demonstration in London on the 18th  October. The organisers are calling for a fairer and properly enforced minimum wage, higher wages where possible, and crackdowns on executive pay, arguing that overall wages for everyone (outside the financial sector) have been shrinking since the 1970s.

The TUC’s demonstration provides a platform for the NUS to show the student body’s commitment to fairer pay. The issue has been raised by a number of political parties looking to maximise voter support in the run up to the general election in May.

In its attack on low wages for apprenticeships, the NUS has also argued that there is a larger problem with the very nature of apprenticeships in the UK. Research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has suggested that there are huge discrepancies in the amount paid to apprentices.

Those doing what are seen as traditionally male dominated apprenticeships ñ such as engineering and construction ñ tend to be paid more than those people doing apprenticeships in childcare or hairdressing, which are traditionally seen as more female dominated.

The EHRC’s findings, however, go further, and suggest that apprentices doing engineering and construction also get more classroom time and on-the-job training as well.