12 July 2002

Row brewing over seasonal wages

FARM leaders are demanding an urgent meeting with DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett to discuss pay rises for seasonal workers which could add millions of pounds to the industrys wage bill.

The Agricultural Wages Board is expected to confirm a 3% pay increase at a meeting on Aug 29. This will take the hourly rate from £4.77 to £4.91 from October.

But the board will also confirm 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 will be set at 10p over the national minimum wage at £4.30/hr.

The NFU estimates this will add around 11% to the wage bill of the horticultural sector and cost £10s of millions .

The removal of the casual worker category is because a EU directive requires fixed-term workers to be treated the same as permanent workers. &#42

Bob Fiddaman, who led negotiations with the board on behalf of the NFU, said the wage board seemed to have no idea of the costs it was imposing on the sector.

It had not listened to the 130 farmers who had written in to it to explain the importance of the starter rate lasting for 20 weeks rather than 12, he claimed.

But Barry Leathwood, national secretary to the agricultural branch of the Transport and General Workers Union, said employers had got off extraordinarily lightly.

The T&G had not really wanted to see the introduction of a starter rate for workers and the fact it had been agreed was as a concession to employers.

The rules could have been changed so that all workers got £4.91/hr regardless of whether they were only taken on for a few weeks, Mr Leathwood said.