UK: House of Lords to vote on future of Agricultural Wages Board

The House of Lords voted in favour of scrapping the AWB this week

The House of Lords voted in favour of scrapping the AWB this week - Credit: PA

Farmworkers’ pay will plummet if the House of Lords gives the go-ahead to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board, union leaders have warned.

A vote in the House of Lords takes place tomorrow on the Agricultural Wages Board after the Government decided to push for it to be abolished.

Farming Minister David Heath claims the board, a panel setting pay which was abolished in all other sectors almost 20 years ago, is “outdated and bureaucratic”.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs plans to scrap it and a bill is going through Parliament.

The Lords’ decision could affect the livelihoods of 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales, the Unite union says.

Farmworker members of the Unite union are briefing peers today in the House of Lords ahead of the vote tomorrow.

The Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) sets minimum rates of pay and other conditions covering sick pay, holiday entitlement, tied housing and many other employment provisions.

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Unite argues that a majority of those who responded to a consultation supported the AWB’s retention.

Steve Leniec, a farmworker from Oxfordshire who chairs Unite’s rural and agricultural workers committee, said the AWB was an important safeguard for farmworkers.

“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,” he said.

“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.”