- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Labour Assembly Members Joyce Watson and Rebecca Evans are fighting to save the public body responsible for negotiating farm workers’ wages.
In July 2010 the UK Government announced plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), which determines the minimum wages for agricultural workers, and sets conditions for holiday and sick pay entitlement.
However, opponents of the plans – including UNITE the Union, The Farmers Union of Wales and the Wales Young Farmers – say abolishing the AWB would leave around 13,500 agricultural workers in Wales worse off.
Speaking in an Assembly debate on Wednesday, the two Mid and West Wales AMs argued for the retention of the AWB in Wales.
Mrs Watson, a former Labour Party spokesperson for Rural Affairs, condemned the decision, saying:
“People who own farms, who depend on farms, and who live and work on farms for their bread and butter – they are worried about who will speak up for them and who will represent them at arbitration.
“Without arbitration, employer and employee would be pitted against each other while expecting them to work side by side the very next day. Without that protection, they would go to the minimum wage, thus removing from the local economy all the additional money that now exists, thus having an even greater impact on those communities that depend on farm workers spending their money there.”
The campaign has been spearheaded by Pontypridd AM Mick Antoniw who has produced a report which calls on the Welsh Government to retain the AWB.
Both the Scottish and Northern Irish Parliaments have already implemented plans to keep the Agricultural Wages Board respectively providing clear precedence for the Welsh Government to retain the Board, they claim.
Speaking in the Assembly chamber, Rebecca Evans said:
“I understand that the Deputy Minister will be meeting David Heath, the UK farming Minister, to discuss the Agricultural Wages Board next week. I really hope that David Heath will stick to his view of 2000, when he signed an early day motion calling on the UK Government to retain the Agricultural Wages Board because its abolition would:
‘impoverish the rural working class, exacerbating social deprivation and the undesirable indicators associated with social exclusion’.
“Since his appointment, the new Secretary of State for Wales, David Jones, has spoken of his concern about the declining number of people working the land and the fact that employment can be hard to come by in rural areas. He said that there have been school closures in his constituency as a result of people leaving rural Wales to look for work and has spoken out about the damage that has been done to the Welsh language and the Welsh culture as a result. The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board can only threaten rural Wales further, so I take this opportunity to challenge the Secretary of State for Wales to fight the corner of Welsh agricultural workers in Westminster by opposing the abolition and seeking to ensure that agricultural work pays.”
Responding to the debate, Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Alun Davies AM said:
“The latest Government figures suggest that around 13,500 agricultural workers could be affected by the removal of the AWB in Wales. These include some of the most vulnerable and poorly paid workers in Wales. Furthermore, these workers often work long or unsociable hours, in difficult conditions. I understand and value the comprehensive protection that the AWB provides for workers, not only safeguarding the level of their wages, but also protecting their working conditions, such as overtime, holiday and sick pay and training requirements. In particular, the AWB sets out appropriate pay scales above the national minimum wage and provides the basic framework from which disputes can be resolved.”
For more information about Joyce Watson’s work, contact her office on 02920 898972 or on www.joycewatson.co.uk.