Farming News - Agricultural Wage Board officially scrapped

Agricultural Wage Board officially scrapped


Trade Union Unite has warned that certain 'unscrupulous employers' could take advantage of the confusion surrounding the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board to exploit their workers.


The Agricultural Wages Board set pay rates and work conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales, through negotiations between employers, workers' representatives and government arbiters. Earmarked as a victim of the bonfire of the quangos when the Coalition Government took power in 2010, the AWB failed to gain adequate support in the House of Lords earlier this year, when its abolition was tacked to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill.  


The Bill was then passed into law without debate or a full vote in the House of Commons in April. The Board was formally abolished on Tuesday (25th June).


Unite, which represents thousands of rural workers, is urging farm workers to check they are not being short changed by 'rogue' employers seeking to dodge paying AWB rates which are still legally binding until 1st October this year, when the current Agricultural Wages Order expires. The Union warned that, from this date pay cuts are likely for thousands of rural workers as the Agricultural Wage Order will be replaced by national minimum wage legislation. 


The union said it would set up a 'wages watch' in an attempt to curb the excesses of exploitative employers. Unite spokesperson Diana Holland 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 1st October, overtime, grades, holiday pay, and the many other conditions covered by the Agricultural Wages Board are still law. We will continue our fight for justice and protection for rural workers,” she added.


The NFU, which represents agricultural employers and pushed for the AWB's closure, said "Farmers and growers must ensure they are up-to-date on employment rules for agricultural and horticultural workers" when the board was officially scrapped on Tuesday. NFU Deputy President Meurig Raymond added, "Critically, employers also need to acknowledge that the terms and conditions for farm workers employed before October 1st are likely to remain unchanged after Sept 30th, given the AWO constitutes a pre-existing contract for current employees.


"Before any changes are made to terms and conditions of employment, the employer will need to negotiate with the employee and gain their formal agreement, following the correct procedures," he said.


Acting as the AWB was formally dismantled, the Welsh government tabled an emergency bill to instate an advisory panel to govern relationships in the Welsh farming industry, and crucially protect workers' interests. Welsh ministers were deeply unhappy with the "underhand" way in which Whitehall handled AWB closure; then-farm minister Alun Davies said the board's closure had been orchestrated in such a way as to avoid consultation with the Welsh government, which fiercely opposed the UK government's plans.


The Welsh government proposals will be debated in July.