THE NATIONAL Farmers Union has expressed grave concern at a wage increase for agricultural workers of 5.1% which it says will increase the wage bill by £55.8m.

The union said the rise, agreed on Tuesday (Jun 29), was significantly above the rate of inflation and could put thousands of jobs and farm businesses at risk. 

The decision was imposed on the farming industry by the Agricultural Wages Board after three days of negotiations.

The increases rate, which will apply from Oct 1, was agreed despite two leading independent board members being absent from the AWB meeting.

NFU president Tim Bennett said the union was very concerned about the effect a wage increase so much greater than the rate of inflation would have on the industry.

“Farm workers‘ incomes have increased steadily at a rate comfortably higher than inflation over the last few years and were even doing so at a time when farm incomes were falling.

“The NFU wants to see every agricultural worker receive a fair wage but the increase voted for by the Agricultural Wages Board is unrealistic and will cost a number of jobs.”