Unite has told the Scottish government today (Monday 22 June) that compromising the powers of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB) would start a race to the bottom on workers’ wages, rights and safety across the rural economy.
The SAWB has established minimum levels for the wages, terms and conditions of agricultural workers since 1949 and its scope covers upwards of 20,000 agricultural- related jobs across the country.
However, a ‘periodic review’ set by Rural Affairs secretary Richard Lochhead MSP has resurrected fears over the board’s future and the potential impact of downgrading or abolishing a model of best practice for rural employment relations.
Unite previously helped to retain the SAWB during the Scottish government’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’ in 2008, gaining cross-party and committee support at Holyrood for the board, despite the abolition of similar frameworks across the rest of the UK over the last decade.
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We see the future of the SAWB as a test of the Scottish government’s anti-austerity credentials.
“While our agricultural sector contributes significantly to our economy it is also known for low pay, bad employment practices and hazardous working conditions – the SAWB is a bulwark against the type of exploitations we fear would be more widespread in its absence.
“Indeed, a de-regulatory agenda across the agricultural sector would be completely contrary to the memorandum of understanding agreed by the First Minster and the STUC in supporting a strong economy and tackling inequality.
“It is also concerning that during a time when the Scottish government is publicising its living wage ambitions to tackle low pay, it is baffling why this consultation does not even consider the possibility of enhancing the powers and remit of the SAWB.
“Unfortunately this gives us the impression that Richard Lochhead has launched this consultation with a view to eroding or ending the valuable benefits and protections the SAWB provides.”
For further information please contact Peter Welsh, Unite Scotland Communications, on 07810 157931.
Notes to editors:
- Download a copy of the Unite response to the consultation on the SAWB (PDF)
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.