Unite has warned the government it could be acting unlawfully if it tries to push through a quick abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).
The trade union has written to the government to ask for an extension to the four-week consultation period, which ends on 12 November, to allow interested organisations to make the case for the AWB’s retention.
In a letter to the Prime Minister, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “Our legal advisers are reviewing the extent to which the government’s approach to this consultation has been lawful.”
Unite claims 150,000 workers rely on the AWB for a decent income and that its loss would increase rural poverty with the loss of some £140m in workers’ wages.
“What is happening with the consultation on the future of the AWB is anti-democratic. Hundreds of thousands of rural workers and stakeholder organisations are being locked out of the consultation to the certain detriment of the people most affected by any abolition.”
Devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland were keeping their AWBs and there was a commitment by the Welsh government to retain its AWB, Unite said.
Mr McCluskey added: “What is happening with the consultation on the future of the AWB is anti-democratic. Hundreds of thousands of rural workers and stakeholder organisations are being locked out of the consultation to the certain detriment of the people most affected by any abolition.
“Concerns have been expressed to Unite by some civil groups that their views have not been sought and that the consultees draw heavily from the large employers and retailers.”
The government has said agricultural wages boards were designed 100 years ago and were now outdated and unnecessary, considering workers now have other employment protections such as the national minimum wage. The NFU has also backed such claims.
Farm minister David Heath branded the AWB a “burdensome anomaly” and he argued that scrapping it would save farmers significant time, effort and money and create 1,000 jobs.