House of lords votes in favor to abolish Agricultural Wages Board (AWB)

House of lords votes in favor to abolish Agricultural Wages Board (AWB)
7th Mar 2013

 The House of Lords has voted in favour of controversial government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB). reports fwi.


In a vote in the House of Lords on Wednesday (6 March), peers backed a government amendment at the report stage to abolish the board this autumn by 192 to 163 votes, a winning margin of 29 votes.
Before the vote, Labour Lords, crossbenchers and bishops had delivered impassioned pleas for the retention of the AWB, but they were defeated in the vote by Conservative and Lib Dem peers.
Peers backed government plans to scrap the AWB despite a government consultation that included the views of farmers and farmworkers, which showed 63% were against its abolition.
Now Labour MPs will get one last chance to persuade Lib Dem and Conservative MPs in the Commons to keep the AWB at the "Final Consideration of Amendments" stage.
Workers' union Unite has warned that scrapping the board could affect the livelihoods and drive down the wages of 150,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales.

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The AWB, which was created in 1948, sets minimum pay rates and other conditions covering sick pay, holiday entitlement, tied housing and many other employment provisions for farmers and farmworkers.
Unite said the abolition of the AWB would decimate agricultural workers' livelihoods and take £247m out of their pockets in the next 10 years, according to DEFRA's own figures.
Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: "The beneficiaries from such a move are clear - the big agri-business bosses and the major supermarkets hell-bent on driving down workers' wages to poverty levels."
In December, the government laid an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill to effectively abolish the board.
Following the vote, Labour Lords and staunch supporters of the AWB spoke out on Twitter at their anger over the result.
Huw Irranca-Davies MP, Labour's shadow farming minister, said it was "shameful and anti-democratic" that the government had bypassed any Commons debate and vote on the AWB by late introduction of the amendment.
He tweeted: "Shameful that elected Commons has had no opportunity to debate and vote on abolition of #AWB. Gov't scared of democracy, and of voters!"
Janet Royall, Labour's leader in the House of Lords, said: "Furious and frustrated that we lost vote on #AWB. Interests of supermarkets and landowners prevail over the needs of agricultural workers."
She added: "What will the Lib Dems say to agricultural workers in the county council elections having voted in favour of the abolition of the AWB?"
But the NFU, which backed the government's proposal, said the vote ended the "anachronism of the only remaining wages board left in the 21st century".
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "Agriculture is the last remaining industry to have a wages board, leaving it totally out of step with rest of UK workforce."
However, the proposals have been criticised by the Welsh government and the Farmers' Union of Wales.
DEFRA had argued that the AWB was outdated and overly bureaucratic.
Scrapping the AWB will significantly reduce burdens on farmers while existing employment rules - including the national minimum wage - will continue to protect workers, the government has claimed.
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