Ministers have a moral duty to inform the 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales of the impact on their pay and housing, once the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) is abolished on 1 October.
Unite, the largest union in the country, said that workers face ‘a sea of uncertainty’ over their future housing arrangements and incomes, now that ‘the harsh mechanics’ of the AWB’s axing have been revealed; substituting the national minimum wage for the current higher rates of pay.
It is estimated that there are about 60,000 agricultural workers and managers in accommodation provided by their employer – and from 1 October, they will also lose their security of tenure.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “Ministers have a moral duty to inform those working in the countryside about how the sea of uncertainty that is about to engulf them will affect their pay and the basic human need of having a roof over their heads.
“This responsibility also embraces the employers. However, we are concerned that small farmers struggling to get over the winter’s woes will not welcome industrial negotiations on top of everything else.
“We are really concerned that workers' wages will be used to make up this shortfall.
“Supermarkets need to show that they are good corporate citizens, especially as many of them were pressurising the government to abolish the AWB, so they could boost their profits at the expense of the rural workforce.
“Supermarkets generate massive profits and are able to pay their contractors sufficiently well to ensure that low wages are not cut further.”
In a letter to the AWB’s chair Derek Evans, the agriculture and food minister, David Heath confirmed that the AWB will be abolished and that the minimum wage introduced on 1 October.
Unite officers are due to meet officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Thursday 9 May to discuss what the union described as ‘the harsh mechanics’ of the AWB’s demise.
Unite has welcomed this week’s announcement by the Welsh Government that it is kick-starting a consultation to consider setting up an Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in Wales.
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.