Peers have put the brakes on government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), which would hit the incomes of 150,000 farmworkers, according to union leaders.

Members of the Unite union welcomed the moves by Lords who showed dissent to the government’s plans to scrap the AWB, which covers farmers in England and Wales.

If the peers had not spoken up at the committee stage on Wednesday (16 January), the amendment would have gone through.

Now a vote by the House of Lords on the future of the AWB has to be held at the report stage at the end of February or the beginning of March.

“We applaud the intervention of those peers that did not want a large swathe of the agricultural workforce reduced to poverty wages,” said Julia Long, Unite national officer for agriculture.

“A brake has been put on the government’s pernicious proposal. There is still time to mobilise enough parliamentary support to halt the AWB’s abolition which has set agricultural workers’ pay since the Second World War.”
Julia Long, Unite’s national officer for agriculture

“The government has behaved in a shambolic way in tacking on an amendment that will have a huge impact on the rural economy on to a business bill – the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.

“Many peers are angry at both the government’s plan to reduce rural workers’ livelihoods and the underhand manner it is being done.

“A brake has been put on the government’s pernicious proposal. There is still time to mobilise enough parliamentary support to halt the AWB’s abolition which has set agricultural workers’ pay since the Second World War.”

Unite, which is campaigning against the abolition of the AWB’s abolition, said 60% of responses to the government’s consultation were in favour of retention.

In its own submission, Unite had argued that supermarkets and the growers, who supply them, were behind moves to abolish the AWB in order to drive down labour costs.

DEFRA wants to scrap the AWB which farm minister David Heath has branded “outdated” and “bureaucratic”. It plans to abolish the board this autumn.

Abolishing the AWB has been supported by the NFU, but the proposals have been criticised by the Welsh government, the Farmers’ Union of Wales and shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh.

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