The country’s biggest union, Unite, has accused the government of another cowardly attack on working people with the news that the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) that protects wages for over 140,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales is to be scrapped in 2013.
The majority of responses to the government’s consultation on the future of the AWB were in favour of retention. In its own consultation submission, Unite argued that supermarkets and the growers who supply them were behind moves to abolish the AWB in order to cut labour costs.
The government is again putting the interests of big business over those of people and communities, says Unite. The union is angry that the government has refused to allow access to the consultation responses, despite repeated calls for them to do so.
Condemning the decision, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “If the case for scrapping the Board, which has served generations of rural workers and their communities, is so compelling, then the government should publish the evidence.
“Their reluctance to do so suggests that this is another shameful assault on workers for which there is no evidence base.
“This is just one more disgraceful act by a government that has no economic plan for our nation other than to strip back workers’ rights. This will ill-serve our rural communities driving already low wages down further still for vulnerable rural workers and swelling even more the profits of the big supermarkets.
“Scrapping the Board will save the government a paltry £50,000 per year yet it will see millions of pounds that ought to be workers’ wages transfer to the wealthy retailers and big employers. Over the border in Scotland, rural workers will still have their board to protect them. Why does this government not similarly value the rural workers of England and Wales?
“David Heath, the Liberal Democrat minister who is presiding over this shameful wealth transfer, and who once stood up to defend the AWB, would do well to consider his future. His seat is a marginal one and agricultural workers are unlikely to forget either his hypocrisy or this malign act any time soon.”
The Agricultural Wages Board was established early in the last century to ensure that rural workers could earn a near living wage and had some measure of housing security.
In October 2012, the government announced plans to abolish the board in England and Wales but allocated a consultation period of only four weeks, instead of the usual 12, a move Unite condemned as an attempt to disenfranchise the rural communities who value the AWB and who are still fighting to retain it.