The Transport and General Workers’ Union, the UK union with the largest membership amongst farm and food workers, has reacted with anger to the renewed threat to the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) from the Food & Farming Commission report (also known as the Curry report).
The AWB is the tripartite statutory body which fixes minimum pay and working conditions for the 170,000 farmworkers in Engalnd and Wales.
One of the Curry report’s recommendations is that the board should have its future reconsidered in 2004. The T&G national secretary for agriculture, Barry Leathwood has written to the UK Secretary of State, Margaret Beckett to seek her assurances for the future protection of one of the lowest paid groups of workers in the UK.
Mr. Leathwood said, “The wages board offers essential protection for farm workers and those in horticulture. It is the main negotiating body for the industry which we fought hard to retain when it was up for review just a few months ago.
“Whilst the T&G can welcome the main thrust of the Curry Report, we cannot sit by at what we see as a renewed threat to our members. It has been the agricultural workers who have suffered most in the recent difficult times. They and their families should not be exposed further by ending the essential protection that the AWB provides.”
The T&G argued in the last review that scrapping the AWB would mean a reduction in pay, an end to the industry ‘sick pay’ scheme, an end to the enhanced holiday provision, and an end to pay premiums based upon qualifications and responsibility. The government accepted those arguments when it agreed to the future role of the board.
The rationale for retaining the board is that agriculture is not a ‘normal’ industry and collective bargaining is not an option. Workers are often isolated and vulnerable to the wider influence of their employer. An example of this unbalanced relationship is that over 30% of full time agricultural workers live in tied accommodation.
The Curry report criticises UK agriculture for being unsustainable and in need of radical overhaul. It proposes that EU subsidies be phased out and that farmers should be paid as stewards of the “public good”.