Monday, 13 August 2012

Agricultural wages board pays out a little as employers seek to drive down farm labourers wages

Following what NFU lead negotiator Bib Fiddaman described as “particularly tough negotiations”, Unite has managed to get the England and Wales Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) to award a 2.8% pay rise for grades two and above and a 1.8% increase for grade one workers. The new rates start on October 1st.

Having submitted a claim for 5% no-one is celebrating. Meanwhile Unite are continuing the fight to retain the AWB, which remains the agricultural worker’s number one weapon in defence of their pay and conditions.

The union’s claim was based on a well-researched paper highlighting commodity prices
showing the ‘Total Income for Farming’ (TIFF) leaped by £1.126 bn or 25% in real terms in 2011. And with over 62% of the overall £5.5bn total coming from tax-payers’ money then not only is their an economic case for a decent rise but a moral one. All of which has implications for the long-term future of an industry that is failing to attract youngsters and relies heavily on an ageing workforce. 

“The outcome is disappointing, our representatives were outvoted by the NFU and
the independent members on the board. Farm workers are already struggling to make ends meet, often having to choose between paying for fuel or food and this is going to make the next year a real struggle. We were hoping for a larger increase,” said Cath Speight, Unite’s national officer for agriculture.

The possibility of there being no AWB in 2013 threatens however to make the increase the last some of the 150,000 workers covered under its agreement obtain for a while. That’s clearly the hope of the Horticultural Trades Association, which has written to Defra concerned it may “have to face these unnecessary cost increases next year.” In fields across England and Wales farm workers will be faced with asking their employers for a rise and there will be no legal back-up to get one.

As a result Unite has reinvigorated its campaign to retain the AWB, which with the Welsh Assembly opposed has no official ending date. Parliamentary procedures also require public consultation before a final vote in the House of Commons and Lords. With the Liberal Democrats having not included its abolition in their manifesto, Unite  
Is working with their agricultural spokesperson Andrew George to organise a meeting with the party’s MPs and Peers.

“This is not over, we are far from finished,” said Cath Speight “and I’d urge everyone to get involved as this is about paying farm workers decent wages so that they can produce the food we need to feed ourselves.”

New rates

Grade 1 – Initial Grade- £6.21 per hour (2p above National Minimum Wage)
·         Grade 2 - Standard worker - £6.96 per hour
·         Grade 3 - Lead worker - £7.26 per hour
·         Grade 4 - Craft Grade - £8.21 per hour
·         Grade 5 - Supervisory Grade - £8.70 per hour
·         Grade 6 - Farm Management Grade - £9.40 per hour

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