Pool resources, says union boss

5 October 2001

Pool resources, says union boss

By Isabel Davies

POOLING labour resources between farms could provide a sensible solution to problems in the agricultural labour market, according to Barry Leathwood, head of the Rural, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union

Mr Leathwood told a fringe meeting of the Socialist Environment Resources Association – an independent environment group affiliated to the Labour Party – that the industry had cut its core labour down to a minimum. It was now very difficult for producers to find skilled labour prepared to work on a temporary basis, he added.

"Currently, when farmworkers leave the land, they dont go back," he said. "Even if their only offer of a job is stacking shelves in a supermarket, they tend to be better paid, drier, warmer and have a more secure future than they have as skilled workers on Britains farms."

But if farmers and workers were more prepared to co-operate, they could work together to meet the labour needs of a collection of farms. "If we are considering encouraging farmers to co-operate much more, then it shouldnt just be about marketing, it shouldnt just be about machinery rings…it should be a matter of labour as well," he said.

Mr Leathwood explained that the advantage of such a scheme for farmers was that they would only pay for labour when they needed it and they would get skilled labour at the same time. For workers the advantage would be that they would get an annual salary and much more security.

In the lean times of the year, when there wasnt much work to be done, they could also take the opportunity to do some training. Mr Leathwood said there were all sorts of opportunities that were there if people exercised a bit of imagination and there was pump-priming money on offer. He stressed that he still believed something should be done about agricultural wages, which he still considered too low.

"Wage costs on farms are exceedingly low in our industry and we need to do something about this in the long-term," he said.

Meanwhile DEFRA minister Margaret Beckett has acknowledged the NFUs contribution to driving forward the debate on the future of farming.

Addressing the SERA meeting in Brighton, Mrs Beckett made it clear to her colleagues and delegates that the union could not be accused of blocking debate on the issue.

She said her message that money must be taken away from market-distorting subsidies was one she had made clear to the NFU and at farming conferences. It was not popular with some, she reported, but people should take note that the NFU seemed to be responding.

"Ccertainly it is the case that they are, as an organisation, very much part of this debate and they are not an obstacle for the debate." &#42

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