Robbing the farm worker to pay the farmer

Andy McSmith

A vast transfer of wealth is soon to begin. A piece of legislation published this week will transfer £237 million over 10 years out of the pockets of one group and into another’s. The gainers will be farm owners. The losers will be those who work on the land.

Naturally, you will not find those figures in an announcement that went up on the Defra website yesterday, in which the Defra minister David Heath proudly flagged up that a little known quango called the Agricultural Wages Board is to be abolished, with effect from 1 October 2013. He says the decision is all about removing “outdated and bureaucratic farm labour restrictions”. The “restrictions” are a legal requirement to pay farm workers decent wages.

The Defra website also implies that there is some saving for the taxpayer in abolishing a quango. This is rubbish. Government departments are required to calculate and publish “impact assessments” of new legislation. In the little publicised impact assessment of this change in policy, you will find the bald statement that “the net benefit of changes in payments to workers is zero, as a cost to workers is a benefit to farmers.” The department’s “best guess” of that cost/benefit is £235.7m over 10 years, while the amount the state saves is a paltry £500,000 – or £50,000 a year.

  • evelinev

    Shouldn’t farm workers, like everybody else, earn the minimum wage, or even better the living wage? How come those rules do not apply to them?

  • Brian Jamieson

    The AWB set minimum wages for each type of work and they were about all 1-3% above the National Minimum Wage. By abolishing the AWB the government has given a hand out to their employers who can now pocket the 1-3% for themselves. The AWB acknowledged experience, particulars required for each trade, overtime pay and work conditions. Changing to the NMW is not just a reduced wage rate but a reduction in conditions and workers rights. It is all very sad for rural England & Wales.

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