Hewson on...Staff deserve respect as well as fair pay

Every now and then something comes along that tests the rigour of my political leaning, such as the current proposal to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).

Andrew Hewson: Image HW
Andrew Hewson: Image HW
My ever so slightly and occasionally) left-of-centre "let's hear it for the workers" antennae leads me to resist such proposals because poor pay has dogged the industry for way too long. Hence, my leftish welcoming of the minimum wage — not before time — and support for banning hunting with hounds. I would also scrap the Grand National for the same reasons — animal cruelty, since you ask — but that's another story.

Anyway, here's the problem. My equally slight and occasional right-of-centre antennae prompts me to support scrapping the AWB on the not unreasonable grounds of it being an artefact of past industrial strife. It has also been superseded by much-needed change to employment legislation, not least the aforementioned minimum wage.

These leanings also prompt me to support the coalition Government's current efforts to reduce business red tape and promote private enterprise free of state interference. Ditto long-overdue welfare and education reform.

So I've been a tad torn over the AWB, not least because low pay — and a fundamental lack of professional esteem — is a principal cause of our diminishing skills base. A kind of "reaping what we sow", if you get my drift. If we pay low wages and do not look after people, we end up where we are now. For many business leaders, difficulties with staff recruitment, motivation and retention remain well entrenched. Where have all the growers gone and will they ever return, I am often asked. There's really no easy answer.

I suppose it all comes down to affordability. But if the AWB is scrapped, as seems likely, we should not see this move as a signal to play fast and loose with our staff. Decent pay is important. And here's another thing — so is respecting them. This means not only paying staff well but looking after them — for example, ensuring that they have somewhere warm and clean to take a break and wash their hands. Little things mean a lot, right?

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer

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