A group of agricultural workers within the Horsham constituency (including Horsham Labour party’s chair, David Hide, who works in the agricultural industry) will be taking part in a national rally and lobby organised by Unite the Union on Wednesday 9th February. The rally will be calling on the Tory-led government to remove the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board from the Public Bodies Reform Bill.
Participants in the rally contacted their MPs to arrange to meet them in the lobby to discuss this important issue and the effects it would have on many of their constituents. The Horsham contingent received a reply from their MP, Francis Maude, in which he declined to meet us
Letter from Francis Maude, Feb 4th 2011
Reply to Francis Maude, Feb 5th 2011
Dear Mr Maude
I was very sorry to learn from your letter dated 4th February that you will be unable to meet myself and other constituents on the 9th February, the date of the lobby of parliament to oppose the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board.
I am not sure what the diary commitments are that prevent you from engaging in a discussion about the employment rights and livelihoods of thousands of agricultural and horticultural workers, but given that you are unable to meet us, I would like to take the opportunity to respond to points raised in your letter, as they indicate a level of understanding of the Board which is clearly inadequate for someone who has a key role in determining its future.
You claim that the Agricultural Wages Act has become outdated, inflexible and burdensome for farmers and workers. This is clearly not the case. Many farmers have stated their opposition to the abolition of the Board as they value the clarity it offers in relation to complex pay and benefit issues, they acknowledge that the Agricultural Wages Board has been responsible for harmonious industrial relations in Agriculture since 1924, the date of its establishment.
Can you seriously suggest that farm and horticultural workers, many of whom live in your constituency, find burdensome the board that guarantees minimum rates of pay on a graded basis from entry grade to farm manager, so in effect doing a job that goes above and beyond the remit of the minimum wage regulations?
It also deals with skills and qualifications, overtime, bad weather payments, holidays, sick pay, apprenticeships and training and much more besides. One of its major functions is to regulate tied housing, which 30% of agricultural workers live in. The Board ensures that rents are not punitively raised and that farm workers are not unjustly evicted from their homes. We are well aware that the fear of homelessness is not something you experience, thanks largely to the generosity of the tax payer, but be assured, with the abolition of the Board, it will be a very real and devastating fear for many within our rural economy.
Far from allowing agricultural industry to adopt flexible and modern employment practices, as you claim, abolition of the AWB would sweep away protection of pay and terms and conditions for 154,000 overnight. The result will not be a vibrant and sustainable industry as you claim, but one where pay levels are driven down as farmers, under pressure from supermarkets, try to cut costs at the expense of the workers.
Falling pay levels will not only make it even more difficult for farmers to attract skilled workers, but will result in poor industrial relations with a knock-on impact on the security of our UK food supplies.
In light of the above I would urge you to reconsider your position and oppose the abolition of the AWB and to write to Caroline Spelman calling for the repeal of the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 to be removed from the Public Bodies Reform Bill.
Myself and a number of your constituents are still intending to attend the lobby on the 9th February. If you were able to find a time more suitable than the time we initially proposed we would be pleased to discuss this with you further or, alternatively, we look forward to hearing of a time that we could meet you at your usual surgery.
Horsham Labour party
Anybody who is interested in this issue and would like to know more about the AWB, or anybody who thinks they may be affected by this can contact us to find out more. See the ‘Contact’ link at the top of the page.