Agriculture ‘worst-hit’ by pension reforms

Farm workers will feel the sharp end of government pension reforms, the Labour Party has warned.

The agricultural sector had the worst record for private sector pension provision, it said. Government plans would see this get even worse.

Thousands of agricultural workers could lose out under plans to change the way private pensions are handled, said shadow DEFRA secretary, Mary Creagh. Some 83% of farm employees (106,000 people) lacked a private pension. Government changes in the Pension Bill to tighten the rules on auto-enrolment would disadvantage 52,000 rural workers.

Ms Creagh said: “The Tories claim they are the party of the countryside, but their actions on low pay and pensions mean that people in rural areas will lose out.

“Rural families are already feeling the squeeze from wage freezes, higher bills and greater financial insecurity.”

Ms Creagh said Labour had planned legislation when in government so people would have to “opt out” of a pension rather than “opt in”.

But the coalition government was set to undermine these measures by raising the salary threshold and introducing a three-month waiting period.

Some 15,000 people in the agricultural sector would be excluded if the threshold for auto-enrolment rose from £5,000 to £10,000 as expected.

Some 37,000 casual farm workers would be affected by the introduction of a three-month waiting period before an employee had to be enrolled in a private pension scheme.

In addition, an unspecified number of seasonal and temporary would be affected by the changes.

Ms Creagh said the Labour Party would release House of Commons library research supporting its claims on 2 August.

“These figures show the shocking lack of pension provision in the agricultural sector,” she said. “The government should make it easier for people in rural areas to save for their retirement, not harder.”

Labour is already campaigning against government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which sets pay rates for 140,000 farm workers.

The party now plans to step up its campaign on pensions as part of its “Back the apple – a fair deal for the countryside” campaign.

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