Union row over farming wages board
Ministers have been urged to allow more time to consider the future of a board that sets minimum wages for thousands of agricultural workers – amid claims its abolition would plunge more than 150,000 people towards poverty.
The farm workers' union Unite said a Government consultation about the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) due to close on November 12 should be extended into next year.
Unite's national officer Matt Draper said: "In only four weeks, the fate of measures that have contributed to the sustaining of rural life for some 100 years could be sealed.
"Some 154,000 people's working lives will be directly affected."
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Unite said that while the Westminster Government wanted to abolish the AWB, Scotland and Northern Ireland were keeping it and there was a similar commitment from the Welsh Government.
The union accused the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of moving at "breakneck speed" and called on Farming Minister David Heath, the LibDem MP for Somerton and Frome who previously supported a motion calling for the AWB to be kept, to extend the consultation to at least 12 weeks.
Mr Draper said Unite was not against modernisation, but that rural communities were economically fragile.
But farmers said the board was anachronistic and it was time to abolish it.
National Farmers' Union chief economist Phil Bicknell said: "The board remains an artefact of an era of industrial relations now superseded by changes in wider employment legislation, not least the introduction of a national minimum wage in 1999."
He insisted that average earnings for full-time farm workers were 41 per cent above the minimums set by the AWB.