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Tuesday 16th October 2012 | 16:29
Abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in England and Wales will be an attack on some of the most vulnerable workers in the country, Unite, the largest union in the country, has warned.
Unite said it would be strongly making the case for the retention of the AWB in response to the government consultation announced today.
Unite, which represents thousands of agricultural workers across the UK, said that the devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland were keeping their AWBs and there was a commitment in Wales to retain its AWB.
Unite's assistant general secretary, Diana Holland said: "The Agricultural Wages Board is not a bureaucracy; it provides essential support to rural communities. Driving down wages does not create jobs, it makes workers and families more vulnerable.
"If the abolition is allowed to happen, highly skilled workers will see their pay threatened, overtime rates will disappear, holidays reduced and sick pay will be a thing of the past. Protection in their tied homes will be reduced and rents increased.
"The AWB, whose origins date back to the First World War, ensures that there are legal set wages for farm workers, which have, in turn, the effect of pumping millions of pounds into rural economies.
"We need a fairly paid agricultural workforce, and the AWB provides a tried and tested way for workers, their employers and independent specialists to jointly discuss this."
The Welsh Assembly Government has been clear in its opposition to the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board, a position which has been welcomed and supported by Unite, the Farmers' Union of Wales and Wales Young Farmers.
It has argued that the abolition should not go ahead without its agreement as agriculture is devolved, but the UK government now looks to be trying abolition through the back door by seeking to exploit the fact that employment law remains the responsibility of Westminster.
Wales' deputy minister for agriculture reiterated his government's intention to retain the AWB and the belief that the board's remit falls within the law making powers of the Welsh Assembly in a debate held just last week.
Unite's Welsh regional secretary, Andy Richards said: "Today's announcement on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England and Wales has once again demonstrated the coalition government's disrespect for devolution and disregard for Welsh workers.
"It is completely contemptible that UK government ministers appear to be playing politics with the well being of workers.
"We will continue to oppose the plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales and will work with the Welsh Government to ensure that agricultural workers in Wales are properly protected and represented in the future."
Although the government decided that it wanted to abolish the AWBs in England and Wales in July 2010, it launched a consultation today on the future of these bodies. The consultation closes on 12 November.