UK: Unite’s warning on farmworkers’ pay as Agricultural Wages Board scrapped

East Anglian farmers fear that an EU deal on farm subsidy struck ths week will leave them short-chan

East Anglian farmers fear that an EU deal on farm subsidy struck ths week will leave them short-changed - Credit: Archant 2013

Unscrupulous employers could take advantage of the confusion surrounding the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) on Tuesday, union leaders have warned.

AWB rates are still legally binding until October 1 but Unite fears farm workers may be short-changed.

It is urging farm workers to check to ensure ‘rogue’ employers don’t dodge paying AWB rates.

Meanwhile, farmers’ leaders have warned farmers and growers to ensure they are up-to-date on employment rules for agricultural and horticultural workers following the abolition of the AWB.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said it was “vital” members were aware that the Agricultural Wages Order continues until September 30 before being replaced by wider employment legislation and the national minimum wage from October 1 and to understand that the present arrangements represent a pre-existing contract.

The coalition government’s abolition affects over 150,000 workers in agriculture, horticulture and other rural industries who have had their pay and conditions set by the AWB for decades.

From October 1, AWB rates will be replaced by the national minimum wage which Unite warns could lead to pay cuts for thousands of workers and deepen rural poverty.

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Unite is setting up a ‘wages watch’ unit to clamp down on rogue employers looking to exploit the abolition of the wages board and combat cuts in pay and conditions after October 1.

Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary for food and agriculture, said: “This is a dark day for rural workers who have been hung out to dry by a coalition government intent on taking rural communities back to the Victorian era.

“Where Unite members suspect their employer is trying to exploit the confusion around the abolition of the wages board, they need to contact their local union office immediately. Right up until October 1, overtime, grades, holiday pay, and the many other conditions covered by the Agricultural Wages Board are still law. And after this date, we are absolutely clear, there is no requirement on any employer to worsen conditions for any worker.

“We will ensure that employers respect the letter of the law and treat people fairly, even when the protection of the wages board no longer applies as a result of the government’s heartlessness. We will continue our fight for justice and protection for rural workers.”

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “Critically, employers also need to acknowledge that the terms and conditions for farm workers employed before October 1 are likely to remain unchanged after Sept 30, given the AWO constitutes a pre-existing contract for current employees.

“Before any changes are made to terms and conditions of employment, the employer will need to negotiate with the employee and gain their formal agreement, following the correct procedures.”

Mr Raymond also underlined the progressive steps that industry is finally able to take.

“Without the restrictions of the AWB, we now have the opportunity for workers and employers to look more widely at the total employment package. From October, we can go beyond the basic hourly rate and consider skills, training, and salaries as negotiations between individual workers and individual businesses are set to become the norm.

“We are committed to providing key indicators and business guidance to help support the agricultural and horticultural industry as it makes the transition to practices that are standard in every other sector of the economy, such as wage negotiations and appraisals.

“The NFU is also committed to providing more information through our website and our advisers in the coming weeks. Employment issues are a key area of work for the NFU, and we will support members as the transition from the agricultural wages regime occurs.”