On Thursday 22 July 2010 the coalition government announced plans to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) putting thousands of rural and agricultural workers' pay and conditions in jeopardy.
The AWB has been in existence since the First World War and protects agricultural workers pay and conditions. If the AWB is removed not only will agricultural workers suffer but also their employers, the farmers. Pay bargaining would become instantly fragmented and every farmer that employs people would have to become an employer overnight.
Abolition would give bad employers the opportunity to undercut wage agreements in a race to the bottom as rates sink closer to the national minimum wage. That's why Unite is campaigning to stop the abolition of the AWB.
Unite is calling for action. Act now to:
• Secure a decent, fair and proper consultation on the AWB's future
• Save the AWB and stop the slide into rural poverty
• Send a simple message to the minister in charge - please do add your own thoughts and experiences to the core arguments below
• Download a model letter to send to your MP
• Click here to find your MP's contact details
Unite's core arguments against the abolition of the AWB
The consultation on the future of the Agricultural Wages Board for England (AWB) and Wales, Agricultural Wages Committees and Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees in England was only FOUR WEEKS long. It opened on 16th October 2012 and closed on 12th November, 2012. This is too short; these changes are being steam-rollered through. These moves will have huge ramifications for at least 154,000 agricultural workers - and many more in associated rural industries, where the AWB terms are seen as the bench mark. These workers - and their communities - deserve a fair and decent consultation process. Unite is recommending that at least 12 weeks is given over to a full and proper consultation.
Our rural communities are fragile. Low wages are the norm which is why nearly on hundred years ago steps were taken to offer some protection against poverty for the rural workforce (later to become the AWB). Cuts in transport and the costs of housing have made country life very difficult for the low waged. The abolition of the AWB is not a rationalising red tape measure - it is a CUT. It is an austerity measure. It will make working and living in the countryside impossible for low waged workers, and it will pull much needed money out of the rural economy.
The AWB not only helps ensure rural wages progress towards a living wage, it also benefits employers. The vast majority of farmers - some 75% Unite talked to - do NOT want to be charged with undertaking wage bargaining. They are heavily dependent on their employees and do not want the tension that comes with imposing wage deals. The workers can often be tenants of their employers too, and so will become incredibly vulnerable if the AWB is removed. For the workers and farmers alike, the AWB provides `neutral ground' which both parties value.
Our rural communities feel that the government does not understand them. They are not there to make supermarkets and landowners wealthy but are communities in their own rights with families that need support. Sweeping away the AWB will put these communities in peril; rural life will not be sustainable. This will in turn destabilise our farming and food industries - if the wages fall to the national minimum, English and Welsh workers will not stay to work the land, or only very vulnerable migrant workers will become the main rural labour force.
Why are English and Welsh workers being so poorly treated by Westminster? Neither Scotland nor Northern Ireland plan to dismantle their wage mechanisms but the Westminster government will impose these changes on English and Welsh rural workers.