Thursday 17 January 2013

Labour Defend's The AWB - Rural Living Wage In The Lord's

17 January 2013
Labour in the House of Lords has stopped the government’s attempt to rush through abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (rural living wage), a move that would hit the incomes of 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales.
Mike Walker at Country of Standard congratulated the Labour members in the Lords and in particular Jim Knight, Philip Hunt and Steve Bassam for their dogged support for rural workers and in highlighting Tory Lords behaviour, more reminiscent of Squire Frampton at Tolpuddle, a man keen to push farm workers into poverty.

It is also becoming clear that LibDem Farm Minister David Heath (Somerton & Frome) has failed to discuss the issue of abolition of the AWB with his own party, with Cornwall LibDem MP Andrew George vehemently opposing its abolition and LibDem President Tim Farron refusing to date to back the move. 

It should be noted that Farm Minister David Heath, fully supported the Agricultural Wages Board prior to his appointment last year as Farm Minister. 

As a result of Labour's action a vote by the House of Lords on the AWB’s future has to be held at the report stage at the end of February or beginning of March. 

Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said

“We applaud the intervention of those peers that did not want a large swathe of the agricultural workforce reduced to poverty wages.

“The government has behaved in a shambolic way in tacking on an amendment that will have a huge impact on the rural economy onto a business bill - the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill.

“Many peers are angry at both the government’s plan to reduce rural workers’ livelihoods and the underhand manner it is being done.

“A brake has been put on the government’s pernicious proposal. There is still time to mobilise enough parliamentary support to halt the AWB’s abolition which has set agricultural workers’ pay since the second world war.”

Unite is strongly campaigning against the AWB’s abolition and said that 60 per cent of responses to the government’s consultation were in favour of retention. In its own submission, Unite had argued that supermarkets and the growers, who supply them, were behind moves to abolish the AWB in order to drive down labour costs.

Country Standard also pointed out that The Tory farming lobby had supported the establishment of a Grocery Code Adjudicator to regulate negotiation's between farmers and supermarkets, stating it was an ethical way forward, yet when it comes to farm workers they keen to see their wages slashed to the minimum. Even DEFRA accept, that cutting the AWB will effectively be taking millions out of the fragile rural economy.