Unite members are staging two protests this weekend to ratchet up the pressure to save the agricultural wages board (AWB).
Unite trade union members will be protesting at the Fresh Produce Consortium annual dinner outside the Savoy in London on Saturday evening (2 February). The consortium, whose members include Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Tesco, supports the abolition of the AWB.
It is targeting the consortium, which represents growers and the horticultural industry, because it claims these supermarkets want to “nail down agricultural wages to poverty levels to boost their already handsome profits”.
Earlier in the day, Unite members will be gathering outside farm minister David Heath’s Somerset constituency surgery in Frome. Mr Heath has proposed the abolition of the AWB, having previously expressed support for it.
Unite has been campaigning strongly to save the AWB, which has protected the incomes of 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales since the Second World War.
This week’s move by the Welsh Assembly to reject a legislative motion that would have set the foundation for the UK government’s abolition of the AWB follows the House of Lords putting a brake on the government’s plans to scrap the board.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “This weekend’s protests are aimed at driving home the message that agricultural workers won’t have their incomes reduced to poverty levels.
“David Heath has reneged on his previous position of supporting the AWB to do the bidding of the major supermarkets whose executives will be living it up at the Savoy, as they discuss how to impoverish those working on the land in all weathers.”
Unite has said that 60% of responses to the government’s recent consultation were in favour of retention. In its own submission, Unite had argued that supermarkets and the growers that supply them, were behind moves to abolish the AWB.