WAGES BATTLE: Details on apprentice back pay unclear

THE BOSS of Apprenticeships Queensland says employers and workers remain in the dark as to the full implications of this week's Federal Court ruling on wages.

Queensland apprentices stand to receive a substantial increase following the ruling, which found first-year apprentices should be paid $13.07 an hour rather than the expired state award of $8.75.

But Apprenticeships Queensland general manager Paul Hillberg said it was far from a black and white issue.

"The information I have is that some organisations did pay apprentices under the modern award, according to the advice from Fair Work Australia," Mr Hillberg said.

"We know for example that some Master Builders members were following the advice given to them, so for those employers, we don't know how this will play out, given it was Fair Work who told them what to pay their apprentices.

"For those employers to be told to back-pay now, that would be like a referee changing the result of a football match after realising they'd made a bad decision earlier in the game."

The Federal Court this week dismissed an application by All Trades Queensland and other employer groups, who appealed after the Fair Work Commission twice ruled trainees should be covered by a modern federal award rather than an old state award.

The companies argued they should be able to keep paying first-year apprentices just $8.75 an hour, more than $4 less than workers in other states.

The wages battle began in 2015 when the Fair Work Commission found an apprentice agreement by All Trades Queensland should reflect a modern federal award of $13.07 an hour rather than an expired state award of $8.75.

Electrical Trades Union apprentice co-ordinator Scott Reichman said the landmark decision meant all trainees, not just those working for the businesses that lodged the appeal, should receive an immediate pay rise.

"This ruling means that those apprentices not only get paid the right pay from here on in but are entitled to substantial back pay that should've been in place since January 1, 2014," he said outside court.

Employer support group Employsure argued businesses should not be unfairly penalised for what they described as "poor policy".

Senior employment relations adviser Josh Vikis said the situation was equally unfair for employers who were paying in line with the state award.

"If the regulator got it right from the start, small business operators wouldn't have to potentially dig deep before Christmas," he said.

"Small business operators don't have buckets of cash for back payments.

"We speak with thousands of employers every day and this can spell disaster for small businesses affected in Queensland."

Mr Hillberg said the decision could also have tax implications for apprentices.

"It would be nice to hear from the Government to see if they plan on providing some support," he said.

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