LABOUR councillors and MPs in Northumberland have joined together to condemn the government decision to abolish the agricultural wages board (AWB) which acted as a “safety net” for wage levels in the countryside.
Labour group leader Grant Davey has written to the communities chair, Councillor Glen Sanderson, urging him to set up a review and an impact assessment on how the abolition will impact on the living standards of farm workers across the county.
After a period of consultation, the coalition government announced the scrapping of the AWB, which currently protects wage levels of 140,000 agricultural workers, before Christmas.
The Department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) recently announced that agricultural workers’ wages “will come within the scope of the national minimum wage” from October 1 this year, which effectively rules out another round of wage negotiations.
The move will, it is claimed, remove £240 million from farm workers over the next decade.
Unite, the trade union which represents the majority of workers in the agricultural sector, said: “Scrapping the board will save the government a paltry £50,000 per year yet it will see millions of pounds that ought to be workers’ wages transfer to the wealthy retailers and big employers.”
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU), though, welcomed the decision, describing the agricultural wages board as “outdated”.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “The NFU have committed to provide information and guidance to the industry to support wage negotiations between individual businesses and their workers in the future.”
And he added: “We will be working with our members and stakeholders this year to progress this pledge.”