Chapter 2: How many different minimum wage rates should there be

2.5 Sub-minimum wages for young people and apprentices

Young people

A number of countries have adopted reduced minimum wages applicable to young workers below a certain age, or multiple sub-minimum wage rates for young people of differing ages. Such lower rates are generally set with a view to facilitate their entry into the labour market. 

Critics of sub-minimum wages have been mainly concerned about the possible discrimination against young people, who are not systematically of lower productivity.

This may explain why a significant number of countries have recently removed, or restricted in scope, provisions fixing lower minimum wages for young workers. In Slovenia, for example, this reform was adopted under the legislation on equality of treatment and the protection against discrimination.1

  • For more information on the effects of minimum wages and wage subsidies on youth employment see our "Key resources" on the right-hand side of this web-page.

Probationary periods and apprentices or trainees

Various countries have established a reduced minimum wage for the probationary period following a worker’s recruitment. This can be done in place of differentiated minimum wage rates for young workers, in order to account for the potentially lower productivity of new workers in a job. Accordingly, the lower minimum wage applies for a limited period of time, for all workers, irrespective of age.

Other countries set minimum wages for apprentices. The justification here is tied to both the lack of experience - and hence lower productivity - and the fact that training will be received in exchange for the lower wage. In such schemes, persons covered by apprenticeship or traineeship contracts can only be paid at a differentiated rate when they receive actual training during working hours.

In practice, the use of differentiated rates for apprentices or trainees varies from country to country. In some, apprentices are entitled to the full minimum wage. In others, apprentices have the right to earn the full minimum wage after a certain period. In many countries however, national legislation provides for apprentices to be paid a specific remuneration or indemnity. This is often expressed as a percentage of the applicable minimum wage, for instance, 90 per cent in Bulgaria, 60 per cent in Paraguay and 75 per cent in the Philippines.2

1ILO General Survey on minimum wage systems (2014)
2For more information, see the General Survey on minimum wage systems 2014, chapter 4, section 5.3.