The Government has voted to scrap pay protection for around 500 farm workers in Camborne & Redruth as part of the Public Bodies Bill. Labour has tabled an amendment to save the Agricultural Wages Board but it was voted down by Tories and Lib Dems – including those from Cornwall.
The abolition of the AWB will bring to an end 60 years of pay protection for countryside workers like those here in Cornwall. The AWB was set up to provide basic pay and protection for fruit pickers, farm labourers and other farmer workers, including on wages, holidays, sick pay, overtime and bereavement leave. More than 4000 people in Cornwall will be affected.
According to the Government’s own figures, the abolition of the AWB will take £9 million nationally out of worker’s pockets. This is a terrible blow not only for local people who work in agriculture and their families but also for the economy. This is already a really worrying time for struggling families and shows once again that the Tories refuse to listen and the Lib Dems can’t be trusted.
As well as 500 people in Camborne & Redruth covered by the AWB, there are around 630 in South East Cornwall, 1100 in St Ives, 450 in Truro and Falmouth, 1080 in North Cornwall and 310 in St Austell & Newquay.
MPs who voted to abolish the board: George Eustice (Con Camborne & Redruth), Sheryll Murray, (Con SE Cornwall), Andrew George (LD St Ives) did not vote despite voicing concerns in the debate, Sarah Newton (Con Truro & Falmouth), Dan Rogerson (LD North Cornwall), Stephen Gilbert (LD St Austell & Newquay).
Mary Creagh MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, wrote this letter to George Eustice:
“42 000 casual workers nationally will receive a pay cut next year when this year’s wages order runs out and they start a new job. Removing these rights from low paid workers at a time when rural families are feeling the squeeze from rising gas and petrol bills shows a government that is out of touch with the needs of the countryside.
“I urge you to stand up for your constituents on Tuesday. I hope you will support my amendment to the Bill.”
Full text of letter to George Eustice MP copied below:
Public Bodies Bill – Abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board– Tuesday 25th October
I am writing to you as an MP with over 500 agricultural workers in your constituency. Tomorrow you will have the opportunity to represent their interests in Parliament by supporting Labour’s amendment to stop the government abolishing the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).
The AWB ensures that 152,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales are paid fairly. It is a partnership between industry and unions to set pay and conditions for people working in agriculture. It sets overtime rates, rates for night work, standby allowances, sick pay, bereavement leave and holiday entitlement. It has worked well for over six decades.
The government estimates that abolishing the AWB will take £9 million a year out of workers’ pockets (through lost holiday and sick pay) and out of the rural economy and rural businesses. 42 000 casual workers will receive a pay cut next year when this year’s wages order runs out and they start a new job. Children who currently receive £3.05p an hour are not covered by National Minimum Wage and so will have no wage protection when they do holiday or weekend work. Removing these rights from low paid workers at a time when rural families are feeling the squeeze from rising gas and petrol bills shows a government that is out of touch with the needs of the countryside.
The government has said that the financial benefits of abolishing the AWB are “negligible”. Yet the Farmers Union of Wales is concerned that the removal of the AWB will leave farmers exposed as they, as small employers, will have to negotiate pay and conditions with staff on an annual basis which will increase bureaucracy for them. Many small farmers also rely on providing their skills to other farmers at AWB rates to ensure the viability of their businesses
I urge you to stand up for your constituents on Tuesday. I hope you will support my amendment to the Bill which removes the AWB from schedule 1. Given the urgency of this vote I am copying this email to your local and regional press.
Mary Creagh MP
Shadow Environment Secretary
To find out more about Labour’s campaign, go to: www.backtheapple.com