Doomed AWB urged to ditch pay negotiations

The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) has been welcomed by the National Farmers' Union (NFU) and other organisations representing farmers and growers, such as the 50 Club Horticultural Employers' Association

But there may have to be another round of wage negotiations next June involving the usual eight employer and eight worker representatives and five Government-appointed independent members. Meanwhile Unite, the union representing farm workers, continues to press ministers to consult the farm industry on the AWB's fate.

The 50 Club's lawyer director Colin Hall said the negotiations may yet be avoided, as farm minister Jim Paice could decide they are a waste of time and money.

"It seems that the necessary legislation (to abolish the AWB) will not get royal assent until July 2011 at the earliest," said Hall. "But hopefully the minister will encourage delegates not to meet (in June). Really, there's no point if the AWB is being abolished."

He believes, however, that AWB chairman David Evans thinks it should be "business as usual until the legislation (to abolish it) goes through."

Kent fruit grower and AWB member Robert Pascal added: "I cannot understand how the Government could justify the negotiations. But Unite and the independents seem quite happy for them to continue."

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said the board should go He said the 1948 legislation that launched the AWB had been superseded by the introduction of the national minimum wage.

"The AWB costs the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds a year," he said. "At a time when Government departments have been asked to find considerable savings, Defra has chosen wisely to remove (this) unnecessary quango."

The NFU believes that workers have nothing to fear from the abolition, said Raymond, because farmers and growers have to attract and keep skilled and reliable staff.

The key question for farming, he added, is why it should be the only industry to have separate wage negotiations, particularly as the Low Pay Commission has demonstrated that, far from being the lowest paid sector, farming performs well against other occupations.

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