Unite wages protest at meeting of ‘countryside establishment’

by - 3rd January 2013, 8.04 GMT

Farm workers and campaigners are expected to protest this morning against Coalition government plans to scrap the panel which sets the wages of tens of thousands of workers in the £95bn a year UK agriculture industry.

(Pictured: Unite lobby of parliament over abolition of wages board, December 2012)

Unite says the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales is simply an attempt to cut labour costs at a time when the industry establishment says it is facing a £1.3bn ‘black hole’ as a result of poor weather conditions during 2012.

This morning’s protest, outside the annual Oxford Farming Conference, is timed to coincide with a speech by the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who is expected to implement the abolition of the AWB, in favour of what ministers describe as a ‘more flexible’ approach to setting the wages of up to 140,000 workers in the industry.

Unite national officer for agriculture, Julia Long said: “The Oxford demonstration is designed to show Owen Paterson that agricultural workers are very angry at what they see as a sustained attack on their living standards by a government that has sold out to the interests of agri-business.

“The announcement of the AWB’s scrapping in England and Wales, sneaked out just before Christmas, will hit the incomes of 140,000 agricultural workers, destroying a protection that they have enjoyed since the First World War.

“This is the shabby benchmark of the coalition government.”

The 2-day Oxford conference is sponsored by Waitrose, Macdonalds, M&S and the vehicle and equipment giant Massey Ferguson, among others.

This morning’s session is expected to focus on the Coalition government’s agenda for reform of EU agriculture policy.

Unite says supermarkets and the major growers who supply them were behind moves to abolish the AWB in order to cut labour costs.

A separate structure exists for setting the wages of farm workers in Scotland and Northern Ireland.