The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board could lead to children working on the land being exploited, an international union representing agricultural workers has warned.
The warning from the International Union of Food (IUF), Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations comes just days before MPs vote on the future of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has protected the incomes of 150,000 agricultural workers since the second world war.
In a letter to work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, IUF general secretary Ron Oswald wrote: “Agriculture globally remains the biggest user of child labour with 60 per cent of all child labour taking place in agriculture.”
The Agricultural Wages Board includes minimum pay rates for children of compulsory school age, and higher rates of pay for the over 16’s than the national minimum wage (NMW).
Ron Oswald said: “We believe there is a strong possibility that the abolition of the AWB will make children more vulnerable to exploitation in agriculture.”
The board’s abolition would drain £260 million from agricultural workers’ pay packets over 10 years.
Ron Oswald added: “It does not make economic sense in the current economic climate to remove deliberately cash from the rural economy and certainly runs counter to the claims being made by the UK prime minister David Cameron that he is concerned about eliminating world hunger, most of which takes place in rural areas, while his government is taking measures to undermine food security for its own rural population.
“Abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board can only be interpreted as a dismantling of agricultural workers’ rights.”
The IUF also highlighted last year’s Joseph Rowntree Foundation which pinpointed 14 forced labour practices in the UK food industry, such as not being paid, not being paid the hours owed and not paying the national minimum wage.
Ron Oswald said that 13 EU member states remained signed up to the convention relating to minimum wage-fixing in agriculture.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “The IUF letter reinforces Unite’s case that the board’s abolition could herald poverty wages on the land; very suspect employment practices; and the real possibility of child labour being exploited shamelessly by ruthless bosses.”
IUF-affiliated Unite is lobbying intensively in the run-up to when MPs vote on a government amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill on Tuesday 16 April. The amendment seeks to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.
The IUF has 387 affiliated unions in 120 countries.
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.5 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.