More than 60 years of pay protection for 140,000 agricultural workers ends today (Tuesday 1 October), as the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for England and Wales is ‘vindictively’ axed.
However, Unite, the country’s largest union, pledged that it will continue to offer support and advice to its members facing fraught pay negotiations with their employer for the first time.
And the union has set up a Wages Watch to monitor any abuses of pay and employment conditions.
The government’s abolition of the AWB takes effect today in England. The position in Wales is still under discussion, while Scotland and Northern Ireland retain their own boards.
The AWB set minimum pay and conditions for about 140,000 farm workers and provided a benchmark for thousands more, including estate workers and equestrian staff.
Unite has issued its own guidance leaflet on pay and conditions after the AWB’s abolition. The union is advising workers to know their rights:
• workers on existing contracts will see their current pay and conditions remain the same, unless they agree to changes
• workers starting to work on new contracts from 1 October should receive at least the national minimum wage, which rises today to £6.31 an hour, and at least the same terms and conditions as workers in other industries
• a worker has a right to a written contract giving details of pay and other employment terms, and should get advice if they have not been provided with one by their employer
• individual workers may have to negotiate face to face with their employer on pay. Those who are Unite members can get advice on how to do this from their union.
Julia Long, the national officer for agricultural workers, said: “Our members in low paid rural industries are facing a vindictive assault on their pay and conditions from a multi-million pound industry backed by a coalition government of millionaires.
“But our members have the support of Britain’s biggest union and we would urge farm workers who don’t yet have that backing to join now.”
She added that the union will be keeping an eye on pay levels as abolition takes effect. Farm workers can ring the Wages Watch number on 0207 611 2534 to give their experiences and seek advice.
During the campaign to save the AWB, Unite argued that workers faced ‘a sea of uncertainty’ over their future housing arrangements and incomes, when ‘the harsh mechanics’ of the AWB’s axing kick in; substituting the national minimum wage for the current higher rates of pay.
Unite welcomed the announcement by the Welsh Government in the spring that it was 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 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.