Farm workers treated like dogs
Farm prices and proprty values go up and the miserable bloody farmers keep wages down.
Workers in the rural Westcountry risk getting a pay cut totalling £14 million over the next decade under controversial Government reforms.
Ministers this week announced a consultation to scrap a pay body which sets wages and conditions for 14,600 agricultural workers in the region.
But by abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board, which has considered wage claims for more than 60 years, the Government's own analysis suggests £140 million could be lost in wages over 10 years – or roughly £14 million in the Westcountry.
Farming leaders have warned the "anachronistic" pay arbiter undermines the vibrancy of region's key industry.
Westcountry MP and Farming Minister David Heath has now launched a four-week consultation on the plans, saying they would modernise the labour market, create jobs and keep workers well protected.
But Labour says the board is relevant because of low pay, dangerous work and seasonal employment endemic in farming.
Mr Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, said: "Agricultural wages boards were designed almost 100 years ago when conditions were very different to the modern age, and there was little to protect workers from unscrupulous employers.
"Now we have the national minimum wage and other employment protections, it's about time we got rid of a burdensome anomaly, saving farmers significant time, effort and money, generating up to almost 1,000 jobs, and allowing workers with top class skills to agree top class contracts with their employers. With a rapidly-growing world population, there are huge opportunities for British agriculture to prosper."
The body's closure was first mooted as part of a "bonfire of the quangos" in 2010. A survivor of Margaret Thatcher's abolition of wages regulation, the board sets pay of between £3.11 and £9.40 hour for 150,000 workers in England and Wales.
Shadow Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said a further £100 million could be lost in payment for annual leave, adding: "Even the Government now admits that the abolition of the board could lead to lower wages for farm employees and take £240 million out of the rural economy over the next ten years.
"Once again this Tory-led Government is creating a race to the bottom in pay for rural communities. The countryside needs a plan to create prosperity for rural communities, not one that leaves our lowest paid workers out of pocket."
Ministers said that the minimum rate set by the wages board was just 2p higher than the national minimum wage.
Around one-in-ten of all workers whose pay is determined by the board live in the Westcountry. In a Commons debate this week on its abolition, St Ives Lib Dem MP Andrew George warned of workers rights being undermined.
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