Crucial Lords vote on future of AWB due today
PEERS will hold a crucial vote on the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) today as the Bill paving the way for its abolition continues through the House of Lords.
The vote, part of the Department for Business Industry and Skill’s Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill’s report stage, has sparked further debate on the merits of abolishing the body that sets agricultural wages and conditions in England and Wales.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the abolition of the body was ‘necessary and correct’.
“The AWB, while appropriate in the era it was established, has now been superseded by modern-day developments such as the national minimum wage.
“Agriculture is the last remaining industry to have a wages board, leaving it totally out of step with the rest of the UK workforce, including others in the rural economy. This makes the decision to abolish it right and proper, and will bring agriculture alongside other modern-day industries.”
He said the AWB generated an additional administrative burden on the industry and that its ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ was ‘out of step for a farming industry that has seen increasingly significant variation in fortunes across sectors and across regions’.
He accused some of those campaigning to keep it of ‘scaremongering’ about the impact of the abolition, insisting the vast majority of farmers and workers are already negotiating their own agreements’ over and above the minimum terms and conditions set out in the Agricultural Wages Order’.
He said market dynamics would continue to dictate pay rates. With demand for workers and skills in farming are expected to increase faster than in other areas of the economy, he said: “Simple economics points to higher rather than lower wages in the long term.”
But farm worker members of the Unite union will be meeting peers ahead of the vote on Wednesday and warning that workers will see wages ‘plummet’ if the AWB goes.
Steve Leniec, a farm worker from Oxfordshire who chairs Unite’s rural and agricultural workers committee said: “The government is calling the AWB a relic from a bygone era. In reality it has been an effective mechanism for collective bargaining since 1948, has ensured the good industrial relations vital in an industry where employer and employee work side by side, and has safeguarded in law the pay and conditions for hundreds of thousands of rural workers.
“These workers will see their wages plummet if the AWB is abolished, just at a time when we need to support a rural living wage and ensure our nation’s food security with pay and conditions that will attract more young people into the industry.
“We are hoping that the Lords will support the AWB at the Report stage tomorrow and keep the hopes of rural communities alive.”
Unite said the Government proposes to abolish the AWB, despite a majority of those who responded to a consultation supporting the AWB’s retention.