A UNION leader has warned that a new charge of up to €1,433 on apprentices doing off-the-job training in institutes of technology could lead to industrial action in companies where they work.
Apprentices starting a 10-week placement in 11 colleges the past week have been presented with a demand for a student contribution of between €833 and €1,433.
Traditionally, the contribution was paid to the colleges on their behalf by the Exchequer, but the October Budget changed that. Students will be liable for the charge twice during their four-year apprenticeships, for each of the two periods of college training.
Union and student leaders are seeking the abolition of the charge, which they say is being unfairly imposed on some of the lowest-paid workers in the State.
Apprentices who don't pay are at risk of not receiving their exam results at the end of the 10-week placement, which could present problems for them when they return to work.
Eamon Devoy, general secretary of the Technical Engineering and Electrical Union (TEEU) said it could escalate into industrial disputes, supported by craftworkers, if such apprentices were penalised on their return to work because they didn't have their results.
He said the apprentices being asked for the biggest contribution of €1,433 were in the instrumentation and electrical, avionics and print media trades.
The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) president Joe O'Connor said the charge represented an additional fee burden on student apprentices, which would be unaffordable for many, and would act as a disincentive.
Labour MEP Emer Costello, who is supporting the TEEU/USI campaign, said the introduction of the fees was "premature and ill-conceived, particularly as we are still awaiting the completion of the review of the apprenticeship system in Ireland".
A Department of Education spokesperson said the apprentices were now being treated no differently from students in the institutes of technology and the amount they were paying was based on the time they spent studying.