Britain’s largest union, Unite, warned that unscrupulous employers could take advantage of the confusion surrounding the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board, which is formally abolished today (Tuesday 25 June).
The union, which represents thousands of rural workers, is urging farm workers to check they are not being short changed by ‘rogue’ employers looking to dodge paying AWB rates which are still legally binding until 1 October this year.
The coalition government’s abolition affects over 150,000 workers in agriculture, horticulture and other rural industries who have had their pay and conditions set by the Agricultural Wages Board for decades.
From 1 October, Agricultural Wages Board rates will be replaced by the national minimum wage which the union warns could lead to pay cuts for thousands of workers and deepen rural poverty.
Unite will be setting up a ‘wages watch’ unit to clamp down on rogue employers looking to exploit the abolition of the wages board and combat cuts in pay and conditions after 1 October.
Warning against unscrupulous employers looking to exploit the confusion surrounding the Agricultural Wages Board’s abolition, Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary for food and agriculture, said: “This is a dark day for rural workers who have been hung out to dry by a coalition government intent on taking rural communities back to the Victorian era.
“Where Unite members suspect their employer is trying to exploit the confusion around the abolition of the wages board, they need to contact their local union office immediately. Right up until 1 October, overtime, grades, holiday pay, and the many other conditions covered by the Agricultural Wages Board are still law. And after this date, we are absolutely clear, there is no requirement on any employer to worsen conditions for any worker.
“We will ensure that employers respect the letter of the law and treat people fairly, even when the protection of the wages board no longer applies as a result of the government’s heartlessness. We will continue our fight for justice and protection for rural workers.”
Tractor driver Steve Leniec, who chairs Unite’s national committee for rural and agricultural workers, said: “For workers who are not yet union members, now is the time to join. Our industry is facing a time of massive uncertainty and upheaval because of abolition, and it is us, the workers, who will bear the brunt. Joining Unite means Britain’s biggest union will be on your side.”
Unite is continuing its campaign for justice and protection for farm workers, with negotiations with Labour’s shadow agriculture team, and with a challenge to the European Court of Human Rights.
For further information please contact Bridget Henderson on 07761 702 085.
- 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.