Ministers are “dragging their feet” in saying how many organisations and individuals responded to its rushed consultation on the future of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in England and Wales.
Unite, the largest union in the country, believes the stalling by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is designed to dilute the opposition to the abolition of the AWB, which protects the incomes of more than 150,000 agricultural workers.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “We have been asking officials at the Defra library when all the consultation responses will be available for public viewing.
“We think this is very important, as not only would it allow us to actually check the content, position and number of responses, it will also enable us to check this information against the Defra summary and response when it eventually appears.
“It will also highlight those organisations that missed out due to the extremely short consultation period and this would then add weight to our legitimate complaints about the whole consultation process.
“We believe that the government is dragging its feet in the hope that that this sustained attack on some of the lowest paid workers in the country will simply disappear.
“However, Unite will continue to shine a spotlight on the government’s shameful behaviour on this issue.”
Unite campaigned against the government’s hasty four-week period, which ended on 12 November. The union said the consultation should have been 12 weeks, so interested bodies, particularly small organisations, had enough time to formulate their arguments in favour of the AWB’s retention.
In response to parliamentary questions from Labour's Defra team, which fully support Unite's campaign to save the AWB, Defra minister David Heath said that the responses to the consultation will be made available ‘in due course’.
Unite has argued that the AWB’s abolition will entrench a way of life that many agricultural workers regard as ‘feudal’. The union has said that the impetus to abolish the AWB was coming from the employers and supermarkets at the expense of the incomes of the 154,000 people directly covered by the AWB.
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.