The Conservatives should heed the words of their former leader, Winston Churchill who said that it was ‘a national evil’ for agricultural workers to receive less than a living wage.
Unite, the largest union the country, quoted Churchill from a century ago as the Labour party called a Commons debate today (Wednesday 24 April) on last week’s axing of the Agricultural Wages Board which provided pay protection for 150,000 rural workers in England and Wales.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “Those Tories hell-bent on imposing poverty pay levels in the countryside should be haunted by the words of Churchill.
“We welcome this debate today and call on the Labour party to make a strong commitment to the livelihoods of those working on the land – and to roll back this vicious assault on working people.
“The demise of the Agricultural Wages Board last week was a stain on democracy, as there was neither a debate nor vote on this vital mechanism to maintain adequate living standards for agricultural workers.
“Disgracefully, parliament was disregarded by a government in a hurry to sweep away 100 years of workers’ rights and a century of consensus around rural living wages and housing standards.
“This week the 'Sunday Times Rich List' revealed that massive personal wealth is alive and doing very well.
“Among those are UK food manufacturers which include Morrisons, Sainsbury's and Two Sisters (one of the biggest food processing companies in Europe). Indeed, in at number 80 is Lord Vestey, owner of Stowell Park, a business that lobbied in favour of the Agricultural Wages Board's abolition.
“These companies have profited handsomely from the tightening grip of retail on our food industry. For them, the Agricultural Wages Board stood in the way of ever deeper profits.
“Workers in supermarkets and food processing rarely attract a living wage, and indeed many will be in the 60 per cent of workers in the industry who are dependent on benefits to get by.”
Unite is now very fearful about what awaits the 150,000 land workers in England and Wales. (In Scotland and Northern Ireland the boards remain in place).
That is why today’s opposition debate is to be welcomed. It must expose the democratic deficit behind this malign move - but it must also signal a new way forward in the treatment of those working in the countryside.
Notes to news editors:
"It is a national evil that any class of Her Majesty’s subjects should receive less than a living wage in return for their utmost exertions… where you have what we call sweated trades, you have no organisation, no parity of bargaining, the good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad by the worst; the worker, whose whole livelihood depends upon the industry, is undersold by the worker who only takes up the trade as a second string… where these conditions prevail you have not a condition of progress, but a condition of progressive degeneration." So said Churchill 100 years ago when he introduced the Agricultural Wages Board. Read the full details in the LabourList blog by Unite member and rural worker Steve Leniec - A national evil returns
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.