NHS apprentices protected by new pay guidance

UNISON will support branches with new guidance ‘to make it stick’ in the workplace

The NHS Staff Council has reached agreement on joint guidance covering the pay and conditions of apprentices under Agenda for Change.

UNISON was instrumental in negotiating the guidance, which is particularly important as the number of apprentices employed in the NHS is set to grow rapidly in all four countries of the UK.

“High quality apprenticeships offer a fantastic opportunity to bring new staff into the NHS and to offer existing staff the chance to learn, develop and progress on the job,” said UNISON head of health Sara Gorton.

“Done right, they can help address some of the chronic staffing shortages the NHS faces. But this will not work if some apprentices continue to be exploited and employed on inferior terms to the rest of the workforce.

“So we pushed hard through difficult negotiations to get this agreed guidance. And we’ll be supporting branches to make it stick in their workplaces.”

The union’s research was pivotal in demonstrating widespread variation in how apprentices are currently paid and employed.

Many organisations have been using inferior, non-AfC contracts, and applying just the statutory minimum apprenticeship rate, or other rates outside the AfC pay scales.

The guidance will support employers and local partnerships in considering the options available to them in relation to pay and conditions of apprentices in the NHS.

It should be considered together with any relevant apprenticeship policy guidance and/or statutory requirement produced by the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland governments.

The key features of the agreement are:

  • apprentices should be employed on Agenda for Change contracts;
  • pay should be determined in accordance with the Agenda for Change agreement section on trainees in the NHS;
  • shorter apprenticeships should have a job description that goes through job evaluation, while higher apprenticeships over several years can apply percentages of the band maximum for the job role they are working to qualify for;
  • the absolute minimum that can be paid under this part of the AfC agreement is the 25yrs+ national minimum wage in England, Wales and Northern of £7.50/hour;
  • in Scotland there is a separate agreement that provides for a minimum of the living wage of £8.45/hour.

Download the guidance