Farm workers struggling to cope with high living costs are set to demand substantial pay rises.
Unite, the union that represents 154,000 farm workers, will submit a claim for a substantial wage increase to DEFRA this spring. It is also calling for a public holiday to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day on 28 April.
Ian Waddell, Unite’s national officer for agricultural workers, said the union would present more detailed information behind the claim in May.
Talks would begin in June to agree the rise by the time the new Agricultural Wages Order came into force in October, he added.
Farm workers were struggling to survive in the face of rising inflation, massive increases in fuel costs and higher food prices, said Mr Waddell.
“Our members in agriculture are paid well below the average weekly wage, and one in four families in rural areas live below the poverty line.”
Meanwhile, farmers were having difficulties recruiting and retaining skilled workers, said Mr Waddell.
“The poor pay and long hours culture of the industry must change if we are to see farming as a professional occupation. We will be presenting compelling evidence for a substantial pay rise to beat the impact of inflation this year.”
An extra public holiday linked to Workers’ Memorial Day would help highlight the need to improve health and safety in farming, said Mr Waddell.
Agriculture topped a league table of shame in having the highest number of deaths per 100,000 workers in UK industry, he added.
“This shocking position shows no sign of improvement and masks an even bigger problem in terms of serious injuries, which are commonplace in farming.”
An extra day’s leave would drive home the message that the carnage going on in agriculture was not acceptable and must be tackled.
“It will be an annual reminder that we must do more to ensure the health and safety of agricultural workers and ensure they return home safe and sound from their work every day.”
Unite will lead the pay talks on behalf of workers on the Agricultural Wages Board, which faces abolition under government plans announced last year.
Mr Waddell said: “The union will press ahead with this pay claim. It’s business as usual for the AWB as far as we are concerned.”
The Agricultural Wages Board would remain in place until the government’s Public Bodies Bill – currently in the House of Lords – became law.
“We have a statutory duty to protect pay and conditions,” said Mr Waddell. “We have an important job to do this year when things are particularly tough for agricultural workers, their families and their communities.”