A TRAINEESHIP program has been dubbed a "rort" that gives employers access to cheap, disposable labour.
Queensland high school student Sarah* worked at a Subway store on the Gold Coast for eight months last year, believing she was setting herself up for ongoing employment.
But she says she was abruptly fired once she turned 16 and asked for a pay rise in line with the award wage, in a case that raises questions about the State Government's $20 million school-based apprenticeships and traineeships program.
Sarah's dad labelled the program "a waste of taxpayers' money", accusing employers of taking advantage of the low pay rate before casting them aside, and questioning the value provided by a private training company that reaps millions of taxpayer dollars to administer the scheme.
"How many employers are exploiting this system, showing no or little interest in assisting trainees and just pocketing Government money for subsidised work?" he said.
The government spent $12.3 million on school-based traineeships last year and $7.7 million to date in 2017, with employers are given grants worth thousands of dollars to take on high school students as "trainees", paid less than the award rate in exchange for on-the-job training that is counted towards a TAFE qualification.
'I DIDN'T LEARN ANYTHING'
Sarah said she was promised a traineeship would teach her about running a fast food business, but what she got was a straightforward sandwich-making role.
"I was meant to learn how to count all the stock and the business side of things, but I just learnt how to do the sandwiches and prep and clean and stuff," she told news.com.au.
And the coursework component of the traineeship turned out to be equally disappointing when the trainer Sarah was assigned by a private college disappeared, she said.
The Aurora Training Institute, which has received $5.6 million worth of government funding in less than three years, sent Sarah another trainer after her dad rang up to complain - but still gave little care, she claims.
After a few sporadic appearances by the new trainer, who was "supposed to come to school every second week", Sarah said she became worried that she would not complete the coursework requirements in time to start Year 11, as planned.
"Dad contacted them and said 'what's going on?'"
It was then, she said, that the trainer finally sat her down in the food court and rushed her through seven workbooks in two sittings.
"I didn't really learn anything, she just told me the answers," Sarah said.
Having checked off the course requirements, she was issued with a Certificate III in Hospitality.
'DON'T COME IN FOR YOUR SHIFT'
While disappointed the training did not meet the standard she'd been promised, the teen nonetheless enjoyed her job and happily picked up extra shifts during her time at the Subway store.
Her boss gave every indication of being pleased with her work, she said, and even hinted that she was in line for a promotion to weekend store manager.
So it came as a shock when, after celebrating her 16th birthday in January, her request for a pay rise was rebuffed.
Her hourly rate as a trainee was just $9.49, but she was now entitled to the award rate for 16-year-old fast food workers: $12.15.
"My pay didn't go up so I asked him at work I said 'when you turn 16 does your pay go up?' and he said 'yeah' ... He said 'text me to remind me'."
But when she followed up and reminded him of her new pay rate, Sarah said, "he tried to raise it by 11 cents, so I'd only get $9.60."
"He said 'it's because you're still on a traineeship' but he had signed me off two or three weeks before that," she said.
"Then he rang me after I'd been texting him and said 'I didn't realise you'd finished, don't bother coming in for your shift on Saturday'."
SUBWAY DEFENDS TRAINEESHIPS
The Subway franchisee involved told news.com.au that Sarah was only ever intended to be employed for the duration of her traineeship.
He denied promising her a promotion or long term employment, and said that at any one time he had a mix of trainees and casual workers paid the award wage, stating that he did not rely on cheap trainees to keep the business running.
A spokesman for Subway's head office indicated that the company supported his position.
A Queensland Government spokeswoman said the government was "committed to quality vocational education and training" and that educational providers it partnered with were audited to safeguard the integrity of the system.
She did not say whether the Aurora Training Institute - which the government gave the institute $2.4 million in 2014-15, $2 million in 2015-16 and $1.3 million to date in 2016-17 - was being audited.
The Aurora Training Institute declined to comment. On its website, the organisation says: "We pride ourselves on delivering quality accredited School Programs. Students are provided with quality training programs, advice and the opportunity to enhance future career prospects."
A spokeswoman for the Training Ombudsman said it had received seven complaints about school-based apprenticeships and traineeships in the 12 months to September 2016, out of 300 complaints it received overall.
The most common complaints were about registered training organisations, VET FEE HELP ad apprenticeships.
* Not her real name.
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