In pursuit of its struggle to deepen poverty and unemployment, the Government has now, in a cowardly quiet manner, set out to break up the Agricultural Wages Board. The rates set by this Board save hundreds of thousands from rural poverty and set the standard for many more workers in related rural employment. Eddy Batchelor of UNITE organising unit, writing in the Country Standard, sets out the need for a campaign to save the Boards in this key sector. You can read national union reaction here.

The Fight Starts Now - Save the  Agricultural Wages Board!

Eddy Batchelor

“I am... calling on the Coalition Government to scrap the Board at the earliest opportunity.” 

The Deputy President of the NFU Meurig Raymond, June 2010.

You read it here, the fight is on to save the Agricultural Wages Board, just as the Tolpuddle Martyrs fought for their rights more than 170 years ago,  farm workers must again fight for justice.

Farm bosses, the Tories with their  Liberal lackeys in tow,  wish to consign the  AWB to the dustbin and with it decades of wage protection for farm workers.

As the only  national rural radical monthly the Country Standard stands full square with the Unite the union and all farm  workers to save the Agricultural  Wages Board. It’s been saved before and will be saved again.

So why is the wages board under attack? Is it because it provides farm workers with amazing wages that are the envy of workers through out the world?

No it is simply another means by which the rural ruling class can squeeze the maximum profit out of hard pressed, hard working often isolated farm workers and return the industry to one characterised by casualisation, low pay with few if any  employment rights.

We need only look at the experience of workers in seasonal farming work; low pay, terrible housing, bullying from gang masters, getting ripped off by employment agencies and the sack if you complain!  Meanwhile your boss drives around in a new Range rover and frets over the kids school fees!

It is not even as if the AWB offers princely sums for farm workers.  In the June 2010 AWB settlement,  the pay rate for a maximum 39 hour week was set at £5.95 per hour  for a grade 1 agricultural worker  and at £8.88 for a grade 6 farm worker.

The National Farmers Union had the nerve to describe the outcome of these negotiations as challenging! When they had managed to walk away from the negotiations having a derisory  award  of only 2.8%  agreed by the AWB board and even then only on lower grades in the industry! With 2.4 awarded to grade 6 workers.

They would have probably had a heart failure if the more realistic Unite claim of 6% had been awarded!

If farmers really want to experience a real challenge  then perhaps they’d like to get out there and do the work and support a family on the top rate of  £8.88 let alone £5.95!

The Deputy President of the NFU Meurig Raymond  stated that farm workers  “Salaries must be market driven, and that “The AWB is an industrial relations relic that has no place in modern society. It serves no other purpose than to add cost and complexity to farmers and growers.”

Farmers do not seem to have a problem with complexity when it comes to getting their hands upon the panoply of EU grants that are available.

The AWB is not complicated it makes life simple,  employ a farm worker and pay the rate and god forbid your farming neighbours find out,  but maybe just maybe  you would like to stretch to a bit more!

A market driven farming industry equals low pay, loss of rights and  fractured rural communities with loss of meaningful work and hope!

The British farming industry will be one characterised by increasing insecurity of employment with the minimum wage being paid across the majority of the industry.

Workers across the whole country are under attack, and rural working class communities are being hit hard;  the  loss of public services, post offices, bus services,  affordable housing and decent  jobs. The fight starts now save the  Wages Board.