Union attacks move to axe wages board

FARMERS’ and farm workers’ leaders have clashed over the coalition Government’s plan to go ahead with a Conservative election pledge to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.

The board, established in 1948, is among 30 stand-alone bodies affiliated to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has confirmed are to be reformed or axed.

National Farmers’ Union president Peter Kendall said: “The NFU has said for many years that the Agricultural Wages Board was an industrial relations relic that exists in no other sector of industry. The Secretary of State has quite rightly pointed out that the 1948 Act is outdated and does not have the best interest of farmers or workers at heart.”

The decision would put farmers “on a more equal footing with other employers”, with the board having “impacted adversely on the competitiveness of the farming sector”, he added.

But Ian Waddell, national officer for rural, agricultural and allied workers at the Unite union, branded the decision as “reckless, short-sighted and ideologically driven”.

“Farming is already suffering from an inability to attract and retain skilled workers. Bad employers will now undercut the good and drive a race to the bottom on pay which will exacerbate the skills shortage and threaten the viability of agriculture,” he added.

The Government intends farm workers to be covered instead by the National Minimum Wage, although abolition of the board is subject to a deal with the Welsh Assembly government.