Opinion Former Article

Unite calls for consultation over abolition of Agricultural Wages Board

Unite the union has urged farming minister, Jim Paice to undertake widespread consultation over the government's proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, rather than pressing ahead in the face of divided opinion in the farming industry.

At a meeting held today (13 October), Unite national officer, Ian Waddell, warned the minister that abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board could have dire consequences for farming and farm workers.

The meeting was arranged after TUC deputy general secretary, Frances O'Grady highlighted trade union concerns that abolition of wage protection for farm workers could lead to exploitation and falling living standards in rural areas. Unite speaks on behalf of 154,000 agricultural workers. Wages, terms and conditions are set by the Agricultural Wages Board.
Speaking after the meeting, Unite national officer, Ian Waddell said:

"We have urged Jim Paice to pause before pressing ahead with abolition of the AWB. There was no consultation with either the National Farmers Union (NFU) representing farmers, or Unite representing farm workers, before abolition was announced.

"Agriculture is critical to food supplies in this country and we have very real concerns. Based on evidence following the demise of other wages councils in the 1990s, wages will fall post abolition. There is already a shortage of skilled labour and this will only be exacerbated if wages are under pressure, jeopardising our food security. The industry should be properly consulted with a view to reaching consensus on the way forward."

The minister agreed that Unite and the TUC should contribute to an impact assessment which will need to be carried out to measure the effects of abolition. However, he refused to delay legislation or modify the Government's proposal, which he said was now coalition policy.

Mr Waddell added:

"For many months we have worked jointly with the NFU to overcome any difficulties it had with the AWB, and indeed, we have been talking behind the scenes with the NFU and with Defra officials about a legislative reform order to update the Agricultural Wages Act.

"I am bitterly disappointed that the pragmatic and responsible work we have done on modernising the AWB, reducing red tape and increasing flexibility will have been a wasted effort if the government presses ahead with abolition. I urge the NFU to join with us in calling for the AWB to be reformed, not scrapped."

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For further information contact: Jody Whitehill, Unite press office on 07768 693956 or Ciaran Naidoo on 07768 931 315

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