6 September 2002

NFUquits AWB after 6.3% rise is confirmed

THE NFU has resigned from the Agricultural Wages Board after failing to persuade board members that pay increases should be kept to a minimum.

AWB officials confirmed a 6.3% wage increase at a meeting on Thur, Aug 29, rejecting union proposals for a "fair" settlement.

The hourly rate for standard workers will rise by 3% from £4.77 to £4.91 from Oct 1.

The board also confirmed that the casual rate is to be replaced by a starter rate which can only be paid for 12 weeks, rather than the traditional 20 weeks.

The rate for starters will be set 10p over the national minimum wage at £4.30/hour for the first 12 weeks. After that it must rise to the standard rate of £4.91.

The abolition of the casual worker category complies with a European Union directive requiring fixed-term workers to be treated as permanent workers.

But the prospect of such a big pay hike – estimated to cost farmers £100m – has prompted NFU representatives to resign from the wages board.

No choice

NFU employment committee chairman Bob Fiddaman claimed he had been left with no choice.

"We have gone as far as we can down the line to resolve the situation but our proposal for a more realistic – but still costly – settlement was thrown out.

"Of course workers must be paid a fair rate for a fair days work. But the proposed order was not the market rate and farmers and growers just do not have the ability to pay it."

But Peter Allenson, national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Unions food and agriculture branch said he was pleased the settlement recognised the EU fixed-term regulation.

The T&G had compromised to agree on a lower rate of pay for the first 12 weeks of employment and the industry as a whole could afford to pay, he claimed.

Mr Fiddamans resignation from the wages board was a matter for the union but it could be dangerous, said Mr Allenson. "Employers do need representation," he said.

The AWB said although it had 341 letters against the proposed increases, it had received another 441 supporting them. &#42