Agricultural Workers from across Britain demonstrated at the Houses of Parliament on October 25, 2011 to urge Members of Parliament (MPs) to oppose the Public Bodies Bill. The Bill, if passed, would allow a process to start to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), the mechanism for fixing legally enforceable minimum wages and conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales. The agricultural workers' union, Unite, called the demonstration to try to persuade MPs to oppose both the inclusion of the AWB in the Bill and the entire Public Bodies Bill. The opposition Labour Party is already committed to maintaining the AWB so the targets were Liberals and other non-Conservative MPs.
The demonstration was followed by a meeting in the Parliament where MPs were invited to meet with rural workers to hear from them directly how the abolition of the AWB would impact on their lives.
Unite national officer Cath Speight commented, “The abolition of the AWB will force thousands into poverty in rural areas. Wages will be slashed if the statutory floor of protection is removed. The AWB provides a framework for a more sustainable form of farming, not least in respect of attracting the future workforce and supporting skills and training”.
The Public Bodies Bill is enabling legislation - it will still need a vote in both the House of Commons and the Lords to abolish the Board so Unite will be continuing the “Save the AWB campaign” for the foreseeable future.
Protecting the AWB is not just about wages - the Board also sets minimum conditions on training, rest breaks and accommodation entitlements. The AWB was the only one of the UK wages boards to survive Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s. Then the agricultural workers’ union led a major fight to protect the AWB. Now another Conservative government is again trying to destroy it and the union is fighting back.
Help UK agricultural workers defend their wages and conditions – click here to lobby Liberal and Independent MPs.