UK: Unite takes fight over scrapping of Agricultural Wages Board to European Court of Human Rights

A tractor busy working on a field in Suffolk

A tractor busy working on a field in Suffolk - Credit: citizenside.com

Britain’s biggest union Unite has filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg accusing the UK government of breaching the human rights of agricultural workers by abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).

The AWB set minimum wage rates and made other provisions related to terms and conditions and tied accommodation for approximately 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales, but it was officially abolished in the two countries on September 30.

The position in Wales is still under discussion, while Scotland and Northern Ireland retain their boards.

Unite argues that the abolition of the AWB breaches the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of association, and other international legal instruments including the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation, an agency of the United Nations.

Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “The abolition of the AWB by the Tory- led government is a stain on democracy and we believe that it is also a breach of basic human rights.


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“There wasn’t even a debate or a vote in parliament on the government’s proposal to abolish the AWB. The board was a vital mechanism for maintaining adequate living standards for agricultural workers. Our members in low paid rural industries are facing a serious assault from a multi-million pound food industry backed by the government.

“Unite is determined to fight for the rights of individual working men and women to come together and bargain collectively in order to improve living standards – like the Tolpuddle Martyrs two centurys ago.”

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Unite director of legal services, Howard Beckett said: “It would be almost impossible in the current climate for any individual to fund a case such as this to the European Court of Human Rights. This is another example how the only legal aid that exists in the UK is trade union legal aid. Unite’s legal services will continue to fund those battles that should be fought for working people.”

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