17 May 1996

Delegates press for increase of minimum wage to £315

By Tony McDougal

FARMWORKERS voted to fight for wage parity with industrial employees and a reduction to a 35-hour working week at their biennial conference in Eastbourne this week.

Delegates called on the leadership of the Rural and Agricultural and Allied Workers national trade group to press for a minimum wage of £315/week, which is more than double the current rate.

Earlier this year, farmworkers won a deal from the Agricultural Wages Board worth £155.04 over a 39-hour week, which comes into force from Jun 1.

Yorkshire delegate Steff Harper said it was important for the union leadership to concentrate its claim to the AWB on pay and working hours issues rather than secondary issues such as bank holiday pay entitlement.

"If the union is serious about lifting pay and removing agricultural wages out of poverty, then let us have a national wages campaign to remove the shackles of low pay."

Mike Ward (East Anglia) said farmworkers deserved a far better deal. "Why should primary producers not receive the same amount as workers who produce other commodities which are not life supporting.

"The reduction in hours is long overdue. Stress and marriage breakdowns have long been linked with the long, unsociable hours worked by farmworkers," he added.

Steve Leniec (South West) backed a parity pay link with industrial workers, and was angry that more had not been achieved in the latest pay round.

"Farmworkers operate machinery worth thousands of pounds and look after the welfare of animals worth just as much. Arable farmers received a 33% increase in profits last year on top of four good years. Yet all we received was a 3.75% rise," he said.

Barry Leathwood, TGWU national secretary for agriculture, admitted farmworkers had a right to be critical of the unions failure to get a larger pay deal. "We have not achieved all that we would have hoped and have been disappointed year after year.

"We have been fighting to keep the AWB. Had we not won our campaign, we would have no wage board and no negotiations."

Barry Leathwood: Disappointed