16 March 1999
Farm workers demand 17% pay rise

By Jonathan Riley

FARM workers have demanded a 17% pay rise at the annual Agricultural Wages Board negotiations which began in London this morning.

Representatives from the Rural Agricultural and Allied Workers (RAAW) group of the Transport and General Workers Union, want a minimum of £5/hour.

The union says that the pay rise and a reduction in the working week should apply to all farm workers, including casual employees who currently earn just £3.21.

Existing full-time hourly rates of £4.26 meant UK workers earned £95.38 a week less than the Council of Europes “decency threshold” for wages, said an RAAW spokesman.

RAAW national secretary Barry Leathwood said that the union recognised the current difficulties and low incomes faced by many farmers.

But he said that workers should not be penalised because only a relatively short period has passed since farming enjoyed good profits earlier this decade.

The 44% increase in farmers subsidies between 1994 and 1998 contrasts sharply with a wage increase of only 7.5% for farm workers, said Mr Leathwood.

The union also called for a contributory pension scheme to be introduced and a reduction in the working week from 39 hours to 35 hours.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) claims that the introduction of the £3.60 minimum wage on 1 April already threatens to increase farm wage bills by 12%.

NFU wage negotiator Bob Fiddaman said a further pay rise would come at a time when the industry is not in a position to entertain another major increase.

“The reduction in hours called for by the RAAW would hit the livestock industry hardest, and this is the very sector which has seen the biggest rise in costs,” he said.