Northern Ireland’s apprentices will not benefit from a rise in the minimum wage awarded to their counterparts in England.
A jump in the minimum pay from £80 to £95 per week came into force this month but does not apply to Northern Ireland.
But a spokesman for the Department for Employment and Learning (DEL) said it was involved in a consultation with the Low Pay Commission over applying the national minimum wage to apprentices.
A Northern Ireland spokesman for the union of construction, allied trades and technicians — industries which use the services of apprentices — said many firms employed apprentices through government scheme Apprentcieships NI, where wages amounted to around £40 per week.
But he said firms which were part of the Construction Employers Federation were required to pay between £142 and £280 per week as an apprenticeship progressed.
The National Minimum Wage Act excludes apprentices under the age of 19 and those aged 19 and over who are in the first year of an apprenticeship from qualifying for the minimum wage.
The DEL spokesman added: “The Government has asked the Low Pay Commission to consider an apprentice minimum wage under the national minimum wage framework and to recommend the rate and arrangements that should replace the existing exemptions, with the timing for its introduction.
“The department will be contributing to the consultation which is being undertaken by the Low Pay Commission.”
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said young women especially would benefit from the increase in England as they were most likely to receive the minimum rate.
According to the latest Government figures, the average UK pay rate for female apprentices in hairdressing and childcare is less than £95 a week. The average weekly pay for apprentices is more than £170 a week.
The TUC said it wants the minimum weekly pay rate strengthened by protecting apprentices under the National Minimum Wage (NMW) regulations.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “The next move must be to protect apprentices with the minimum wage so that employers cannot exploit young trainees.”