Unions in Queensland could be set to pursue millions of dollars’ worth of back pay claims on behalf of apprentices following a ruling that apprentices should be being paid under more generous federal awards as opposed to state based awards.

As reported by News Ltd, the full bench of the Fair Work Commission has dismissed an appeal by All Trades Queensland against a ruling last year which placed apprentices under modern federal awards rather than state awards.

The case originated after the Commission refused to approve a 2015 agreement which ATQ – a group training and apprentice labour hire firm which claims to be Australia’s largest group training firm for apprentices and trainees – wanted to have assessed against state based awards as opposed to the ‘better off’ test described under modern awards.

The full bench, however, ruled that these in fact terminated in January 2014 and did not cover workers under the proposed new agreement.

Hailing the decision as a win for vulnerable apprentices, unions say they now believe that apprentices in Queensland will be entitled to significant amounts of back pay dating back as far as January 2014.

According to News Corporation, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union says it intends to conduct an audit of apprentice and trainee wage records in order to ensure that all workers have received their correct rates of pay.

The Electrical Trades Union estimates that up to 1,000 apprentices employed by group training organisations across the state could have been under paid.

Apprentices are entitled to pay rates of $12.66 per hour compared to $8.75 per hour under the state based award.

However, Master Builders Australia chief executive officer Wilhelm Harnisch expressed disappointment decision and urged unions to be responsible in how they pursued back pay from employers.