Plea to peers to save farm wages board

Farm workers are to lobby peers in a bid to retain the Agricultural Wages Board.

Members of the Unite union will lobby Labour and Liberal Democrat peers in the run-up to the House of Lords debating the future of the AWB on Wednesday (16 January).

Unite will be calling on peers to reject the government decision to abolish the wages board, which sets minimum pay rates for 150,000 farm workers in England and Wales.

Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long accused the government of fast-tracking the abolition of the wages board, which has set minimum pay rates for farm workers since World War Two.

“Many peers share our sense of outrage, both at the government’s plan to decimate rural workers’ livelihoods and at the underhand and dishonourable way in which it has been done.

“The AWB’s abolition will take £247m out of the pockets of agricultural workers in the next ten years, according to DEFRA’s own figures.

“The beneficiaries from such a move are clear – the big agri-business bosses and the major supermarkets hellbent on driving down workers’ wages to poverty levels.”

Unite is strongly campaigning against the AWB’s abolition and said 60% of responses to the government’s consultation on the issue were in favour of retention.

In its own submission, Unite had argued that supermarkets and the growers who supply them were behind moves to abolish the AWB in order to drive down labour costs.

DEFRA argues that the AWB is outdated and overly bureaucratic. It plans to abolish the board this autumn.

Scrapping the AWB will significantly reduce burdens on farmers while existing employment rules – including the national minimum wage – will continue to protect workers, claims the government.

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