Defra Denies farming "Pay freeze claims" reports the Farmers Guardian

Defra Denies farming
11th Apr 2011


FARMING Minister Jim Paice has asked the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) to consider leaving minimum agricultural wage rates unchanged for 2011.

Defra has denied claims by the union Unite, however, that he is recommending a ‘shameful pay freeze’ for farm workers.

Mr Paice’s comments were made in a letter to AWB chairman Derek Evans outlining the process by which the Board, which sets minimum farm wages and employment conditions in England and Wales, will be abolished.    

Mr Paice said that, given the legislative timetable of the Public Bodies Bill, he hoped the Order abolishing the Board would take effect on October 1, 2012.

He pointed out that while the Board will remain in existence until then, it has ‘flexibility on how it exercises its powers’. In particular, it is not required to make an Agricultural Wages Order (AWO) fixing a minimum agricultural wage rate annually he said.

He advised Mr Evans that it ‘would seem prudent’ for the Board to take into account the legislation being enacted to remove the agricultural minimum wage regime.

He added that, if the 2010 agricultural minimum wages rates continued, there is legislation in place to ensure they could not fall below the National Minimum Wage rate, which will ‘anyway apply’ to agricultural workers once the board is abolished.

“The decision on whether to proceed with a new Order for 2011 of course rests with the Board, but I hope the Board will take a pragmatic view,” Mr Paice wrote.

Unite national officer Ian Waddell, who leads negotiations on the Board on behalf of farm workers, said: “The Minister’s call for a pay freeze in such hard times is shameful.

“Jim Paice could not have been any clearer. His letter is a blatant attempt to railroad the AWB into implementing a pay freeze for poorly paid farm workers which will last until at least October 2012.

“He has previously said that the government’s intention in abolishing the AWB is not to drive wages down, but now he’s trying to cut pay in real terms before the AWB has even gone.”

Unite said it would continue with ‘business as usual’ and would present a pay claim on behalf of agricultural workers early next year. 

But a Defra spokesman said: “Jim Paice has not recommended a pay freeze for agricultural workers.

“In his correspondence with the AWB, the Minister was reminding the AWB that after the bodies’ abolition, agricultural wages will be set in line with existing national minimum wage legislation.”

Bob Fiddaman, the NFU’s lead negotiator on AWB, said the issue would be discussed at a meeting of the AWB today (December 10) and that he could not comment on the NFU’s position until it had taken place.  

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