UK: Casual farm workers ‘could lose up to 240million’ if Agricultural Wages Board is scrapped, says impact assessment

Up to �240million could be snatched from casual farm workers if the Government goes ahead and scraps the body that sets their wages.

Currently all casual farm workers in England and Wales have their pay set by the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), established in 1924 after the bitter Norfolk farm workers’ strike.

But the coalition announced plans to scrap it as part of its “bonfire of the quangos”, which would result in agricultural employers setting pay locally.

Some rights the AWB has secured for the 152,000 casual farm workers in England and Wales, such as payment for annual leave, could also be lost if the body is scrapped.

On Tuesday ministers launched a consultation on the abolition for the first time publishing an impact assessment detailing the possible losses which may be suffered by casual workers including minors and migrants,

In the document, Whitehall officials suggested casual workers could lose up to �140m from their wages over 10 years and �100m from payment for annual leave.

Labour’s Shadow farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies MP accused the Government of increasing the pressure on already hard-pressed families in rural areas.

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He said: “Once again this Tory-led Government is creating a race to the bottom in pay for rural communities. The countryside needs a plan to create prosperity for rural communities, not one that leaves our lowest paid workers out of pocket.”

New wage rates implemented by the AWB in September mean that this year workers at grades two and above received a 2.8% pay rise to �6.96 per hour and workers at grade one received a 1.8% increase.

According to AWB figures, there are 760 casual workers in the South Suffolk constituency, 880 in west Suffolk, 1,030 in Suffolk Coastal, 210 in Waveney, 1,000 in central Suffolk and 710 in Bury St Edmunds.

In north Essex, there are 410 in Braintree, 890 in Harwich and north Essex, 10 in Colchester, 150 in Clacton and 710 in Witham.

Across the East of England there are 24,270.

However, the National Farmers’ Union chief economist Phil Bicknell pointed out that the Government’s impact assessment also said the move would reduce costs for farmers.

He said: “Just because you see the abolition of the AWB it does not mean that the level of farm workers’ wages will automatically drop to the national minimum wage.”

The Government consultation on the AWB’s abolition will finish on November 12. Responses can be submitted through the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.