24 March 2000

15% pay rise call…

AS the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) called for higher wages for farm labour, a university study revealed that children now form a key part of the farm labour force because their parents can no longer afford to employ adult workers.

As farmers weekly went to press, the T&G was calling for a 15% pay rise for all farm and horticultural workers and a minimum £5 an hour pay rate at the Agricultural Wages Board annual negotiations. During the negotiations with the NFU, the T&G also pressed for a reduction in the working week to 35 hours and for a contributory pension scheme for all workers. The union claimed that poor conditions did not affect all sectors of farming and that many farms were still doing well.

But farm incomes have sunk so low that even unqualified farm workers on £4.36 an hour last year earned almost six times more than the average hill farmer who took home about £1500. And an NFU spokeswoman added that a minimum £5 an hour was unrealistic and a maximum 35 hour week and pension scheme were unworkable on many farm units.

Meanwhile, Warwick University has revealed the findings of its study on farm labour. Phil Mizen, who co-ordinated the universitys research, said that children as young as 11 years old were now having to perform key tasks on farms.

"With the dire straits that some farming communities are in at the moment, it appears that family labour is an important additional source of help," he said.

During his research, Dr Mizen found 12-year-olds carrying out routine tractor driving tasks. The legal lower age limit for such work is 13 years old.

Dr Mizen said: "We had a couple of farmers sons who were doing the kind of work they shouldnt have been. It was quite alarming."

But a Health and Safety Executive official said that the organisation was unaware of any recent prosecutions relating to child labour on farms although almost 70 children have been killed in farm accidents in the past decade.