The TUC and Unite, the union representing agricultural workers, are calling on the Prince of Wales to take a leading role in protecting the pay and conditions of his estate’s workers, if government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board go ahead.
The Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales sets legal minimum pay and conditions – including overtime rates, holiday pay, and a sick pay scheme – for 150,000 farm workers and is a benchmark for thousands more rural workers.
The coalition government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, despite support from farmers and landowners. More than 60 per cent of those replying to a government consultation called for the Agricultural Wages Board’s retention.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey previously wrote to Prince Charles raising their concerns over the comments by the general manager of the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery, part of the Prince’s estate. Responding to the government consultation, she called for the Agricultural Wages Board’s abolition, calling it ‘archaic and not fit for purpose’.
Much of the support for the Agricultural Wages Board from farmers and other rural employers as well as employees has been due to the prospect of face-to-face negotiations should abolition go ahead, and the strain these may put on close working relationships.
Currently, workers’ and employers’ representatives, with government-appointed independent members, thrash out national pay deals, freeing up farmers and workers to concentrate on the demands of the job.
The Unite and TUC joint letter says: “We would propose that the estate might take a leading role in defending the terms and conditions of its agricultural employees and market gardening employees from attack. This might include giving appropriate advice to tenant farmers and to managers in the Duchy’s businesses.”
The letter also raises concerns over the role of retailers, who through the Fresh Produce Consortium have been pressing for abolition.
A government amendment on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board comes to the Commons on Tuesday 16 April. A Labour amendment in favour of the Agricultural Wages Board won cross-party backing in the House of Lords in March. If the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales is abolished, it looks likely that a pay-setting body would be set up in Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland are retaining their Agricultural Wages Boards.
For further information please Bridget Henderson on 07761 702 085
Notes to editors:
- 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.