Farmers pay board in jeopardy after MPs defeat Labour's rescue attempt

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Wed Oct 26 22:32:56 BST 2011

The organisation of agricultural labour, which began over 170 years ago at 
Tolpuddle, is being taken apart!


Farmers pay board in jeopardy after MPs defeat Labour's rescue attempt

Farm workers fear wage cuts after Labour fails to have Agricultural Wages 
Board taken off quango-cutting bill

Press Association, Guardian On-line, Wednesday 26th October 2011

The future of the body that sets wages for farm workers is in doubt following 
a vote in the Commons on Tuesday.

MPs were voting on whether to take the Agricultural Wages Board out of the 
remit of the Public Bodies Bill, which will allow ministers to abolish a 
number of quangos – potentially including the AWG.

The shadow cabinet office minister Gareth Thomas, who put forward the amendment, 
told MPs: "It is difficult, frankly, to see how, without the Agricultural Wages 
Board, farm workers will not inevitably be worse off."

The AWB sets pay rates for more than 150,000 rural workers in England and 
Wales, and is one of a number of bodies the government wants to axe once the 
bill becomes law. The amendment to remove the AWB from the "powers to abolish" 
list was defeated by 296 votes 219, a majority of 77.

Earlier in the day, agricultural workers dressed as scarecrows warned of the 
"rural poverty" facing them should their pay and conditions deteriorate. Rural 
workers carried flags and placards saying "hands off our pay" as they protested 
outside Westminster.

Steve Leniec, 56, a farm worker from Oxfordshire, said: "It is crunch time. If 
it the abolition happens, it'll be a step towards rural poverty.

"With no policing, no regulation, a few good employers will pay wage increases 
but many more will fall back to the minimum wage."

He added: "As a skilled worker, I get paid more than the national minimum but 
with the wages board gone, wages will be eroded."

There are also fears that cuts in pay will further deter young people from 
entering the industry. David Hide, 46, from Horsham, West Sussex, dressed as a 
scarecrow with straw stuffed in his Wellington boots and jacket. Mr Hide, a 
manager at Walberton Nursery, said: "We need to promote careers in our sector 
to help young people see it as a viable job opportunity.

"Now they see it as a low-paid, low-skilled sector in which it is very difficult 
to make ends meet."

Ivan Monckton, 58, a former farm worker from Presteigne, Wales, said he would 
not encourage his children to go into farming because of the low wages. He 
said: "It's always been difficult. Even if my children wanted to, I'd tell them 
to clean offices – anything but farming."

In the Commons, Labour's Huw Irranca-Davies MP said the axing of the AWB would 
have "severe repercussions". His party colleague Tom Blenkinsop MP said 
without the AWB, agricultural workers would have no other mechanism to pursue 
collective bargaining to improve their pay, terms and conditions.

He said: "At heart, the destruction of the AWB has a cynical kernel. It 
implies that due to record levels of unemployment, employers can drive down 
terms and conditions of pay, on the assumption that people will be simply 
grateful for a job.

"In this sense, it is intended precisely to be exploitative of the very rural 
working class by rural rich, that provide the food we eat and feed our 
families with."

Jon Ashworth MP said it was an issue of fairness, adding: "It is inconceivable 
that if this body was abolished, that there would not be downward pressure on 
the terms and wages and conditions of agricultural workers."

But agriculture minister Jim Paice said the AWB needed reform 63 years after 
it was set up. He told MPs: "Back in 1948 there were hundreds of thousands of 
farm workers. Most of them were horsemen because that was the main force of 

""The world has moved on. It is not the forelock-tugging yokel that so many 
(Labour) members seem to want to think is still a farm worker."

He said the market should be allowed to decide wages as in other industries, 
but insisted: "This is not some secretive plot by the government to drive down 
wages or conditions for agricultural workers."



"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

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