The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) will accelerate the slide into poverty of 150,000 people working on the land in England and Wales, Unite, the largest union in the country, said yesterday (Friday, 26 October).
Unite is calling on David Heath, the Minister of State in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to extend the consultation on the future of the AWB to at least 12 weeks, so that interested bodies, particularly small organisations, have enough time to formulate their arguments for the retention of the AWB.
Currently, the consultation is due to close on November 12 - after just four weeks and Unite national officer (rural and agriculture), Matt Draper, in his letter to the minister, accused DEFRA of moving at “breakneck speed”.
He said: “In only four weeks, the fate of the measures that have contributed to the sustainment of rural life for some one hundred years could be sealed.
“Some 154,000 people’s working lives will be directly affected along with others in the rural economy whose terms and conditions mirror those of AWB workers.”
Unite said that, while the Westminster government wanted to abolish the AWB in England and Wales, the devolved governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland were keeping their AWBs and there was a commitment by the Welsh Government to retain its AWB.
Matt Draper told the minister, who represents the rural Somerset seat of Somerton and Frome, that he previously supported an Early Day Motion which called for the AWB to be retained.
Matt Draper said: “This suggests that you understand the complex issues at play here.”
Matt Draper said that Unite was not against the modernisation of the AWB, but that rural communities are economically fragile where low wages are the norm – and to afford some protection against rural poverty was the reason that the AWB, which has it origins in the First World War, came into being in the first place.