Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to increase pay for farmworkers by reinstating the Agriculture Wages Board (AWB) in England – in the face of NFU concern over the impact of wage rises.
Mr Corbyn made the pledge to reintroduce the board during a speech at the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset on Sunday (22 July).
As well as improving conditions for farmworkers, a Labour government would also bring about a real living wage of at least £10/hour by 2020, he said.
Introduced by Labour in 1948, the AWB set pay and working conditions until was scrapped by the coalition government in 2013.
A UK-wide national living wage now stands at £7.83/hour for those aged 25 and over.
‘Decency for workers’
Mr Corbyn said: “A Labour government elected in Britain at the general election will bring back an agricultural wages board to give decency to farmworkers – decency for rural workers – that allows them to be properly paid.”
The NFU says it supports the principle of a national living wage.
But it has told the Low Pay Commission the speed of implementation and recent increases in wage rates – as well as volatility and Brexit uncertainty – made it hard for some farm sectors to remain competitive.
Some 68% of respondents to a recent NFU horticulture survey said the recent increase of the national living wage to £7.83/hour had hit their profits.
NFU president Minette Batters said farm businesses were also being affected by volatility, uncertainty over Brexit and the weather.
‘Uncertainty for farmers’
“Recent weather events, combined with the weakness of the pound, have led to increases in farm input costs.
“It is likely these cost pressures will continue for the remainder of the year, at a time when some parts of agriculture are already experiencing lower farmgate prices.”
Ms Batters said the NFU’s vision was of a productive, profitable and progressive farming sector, which continued to produce food for the nation while taking care of the countryside.
She added: “Central to that is farmer confidence, as this feeds through to investment.”
NFU statistics showed mid-term confidence had hit an all-time low since its survey began eight years ago, said Ms Batters.
Almost twice as many farmers intended to reduce rather than increase investment due to Brexit uncertainty, she added.