Farm life to rock the Commons in attempt to stop poverty pay

Farm life to rock Commons in attempt to stop poverty pay

12 November 2012

WHEN: Monday 12 November 2012, 12.30pm
WHERE: Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1

Angry farm workers will be bringing the countryside to Westminster to demand an end to the coalition government’s attempts to push rural workers in to poverty.

Workers, a tractor and a band called "Farmageddon' will set up camp opposite the Commons to demand that the government listens to their fears.  They will be joined by a team of `badgers' who have been part of the campaign to win rural workers a reprieve from the government's intended wages cull.

Unite says that the government is rushing through plans to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board, which protects 154,000 rural workers' pay and terms and conditions, with just four weeks consultation.  The union has repeatedly warned that abolition of wage and housing protections for farm workers will lead to exploitation and falling living standards in rural areas.

Steve Leniec, AWB member and rural farm worker says: “We will not be silenced over this. We will shout it from the rooftops. The government is pushing 154,000 people in to poverty and putting rural communities in jeopardy. Without the AWB to negotiate pay and fair housing, wages will fall to the lowest legal wage possible. Bad employers will see this as the opportunity to cut pay and raise housing costs.”

Unite says that with farming already under immense pressure from the supermarkets and food industry to keep costs down, wages will certainly fall with the last floor of protection, the AWB, removed.

Julia Long, Unite national officer for rural and agricultural workers says: “Even the Thatcher and Major governments didn’t go as far as scrapping the Agricultural Wages Board, recognising that rural workers are very vulnerable and need protection. But this government is speeding through a mock consultation, possibly flouting the law, so that they can abolish a pay structure that was introduced almost a century ago and has supported workers for generations.

"Some £140 million in wages will now be kept by employers and not by those who earned it and who spend it in rural communities.  It is a senseless act by a government that is simply not on the side of either working people or our countryside.  We will continue to challenge this every step of the way."

For nearly a century agriculture has enjoyed harmonious industrial relations. Before the AWB was created there were bitter strikes and battles as workers fought for better wages and conditions.

Unite is staging the rally on Old Palace Yard with speeches from Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary-designate, rural farm workers and MPs. There will be music from band Farmageddon and a tractor will circulate Parliament Square with banners saying ‘No to Rural Poverty’ and ‘Save the AWB’.
For further information contact the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065, or Alex Flynn, Unite head of media and campaigns, on 020 3371 2066 or 07967 665 869.

  • 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.