Growers seek pay freeze for farm workers as profits suffer double whammy

NFU grower representatives on the Agricultural Wages Board will be asking for a pay freeze for farm workers.

However, they cannot be certain that their demands will be met, particularly since Unite's negotiators on the board are expected to ask for a substantial wage increase.

Soft fruit growers, in particular, have a good case for asking for a worker pay freeze because their 2008 returns were relatively poor due to depressed fruit sales caused by bad summer weather and the worsening economic climate. Their fuel, fertiliser and other costs also rose steeply.

The outcome of the wage negotiations, scheduled to take place in late May to early June, is usually influenced by the Low Pay Commission's (LPC) recommended increase in the national minimum wage, currently £5.73/hour compared with £5.74 for farm workers. But the LPC's recommendation, usually announced in February, has been delayed, possibly until May, due to the economic outlook.

"We're all in uncharted territory without a map," declared NFU chief horticultural adviser Philip Hudson. "Pay awards in other industries are reflecting the economic situation, so we hope that the Low Pay Commission will take this into consideration."

However, Hudson said he finds it hard to believe that the LPC will agree to a minimum wage freeze. At the very least an inflation factor will be added, he predicted.

Whether Unite, the farming section of the Transport & General Workers' Union, will accept a pay freeze "is the EUR64,000 question", Hudson admitted.

With the horticultural sector, particularly fruit production, having had a very tough 12 months, it is hoped any deal will reflect this fact.


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