20 March 1998

3.25% set for workers pay

THIS years farmworkers pay settlement, which provides a 3.25% increase for full and part-time workers in England and Wales, has been described by the NFU as satisfactory.

But the workers union said the pay rise, which will increase the basic rate for a 39-hour week to £166.08, was below the rate of inflation and effectively represented a wage cut.

The awards, agreed after two days of talks at the Agricultural Wages Board in London, also included a 5% rise for casual workers, bringing the pay rate up to £3.21 an hour.

The Transport and General Workers Union said the increased rate for casual workers was long overdue, having been frozen for three years in the early 1990s.

"But we should be clear that this is not a generous decision by the farmers to award an above-inflation pay rise for 34,000 casual workers.

It is cynical and hypocritical of employers to prepare for paying the national minimum wage to casual workers by cutting the wages of full and part-time workers," said T&G negotiator Barry Leathwood.

The increases will cost the industry about £53m in a full year and will come into force this June, provided they are formally ratified by the AWB next month. There was no change in the standard working week of 39 hours.

Bob Fiddaman, chairman of the NFUs employment and education committee and leader of the employers team at the negotiations, said the outcome was satisfactory.

"This years negotiations took place against a backdrop of an extremely difficult year for the whole farming industry. We believe the result achieved is a fair one," he said.

But Mr Leathwood, although recognising the difficult year, said: "Many of the lowest paid workers in the land are working for wealthy farmers and landowners who are still financially buoyant after record profits in recent years. We maintain that they can afford to pay their workers more than poverty pay."