The Agricultural Wages Board in Northern Ireland is to be scrapped, signalling the start of individual negotiations between farmers and their employees in setting wages.

The decision was taken by secretary of state Peter Hain as part of a wide-ranging review of public administration in Northern Ireland.

It has been welcomed by farmer representatives.

“For almost 10 years farmers have earned below the national minimum wage and the activities of the Agricultural Wages Board have been unhelpful,” said Ulster Farmers Union president Campbell Tweed.

“Their annual proposals to increase wages have been out of step with inflation and have disadvantaged farm businesses.

The AWB was unnecessary given that a national minimum wage already exists to protect employees and we are pleased that this decision has finally been taken.”

Northern Ireland is the first UK region to abandon its agricultural wages board.