Mixed response as wages board culled

The end of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) has been welcomed by many industry leaders (see p8). Hayloft Plants' Derek Jarman went as far as to say: "I'm a very happy chappy." He is on the negotiating panel as an employer and for years has detailed the painful process of claims and offers that make up the board's talks.

That the AWB is a lot of bureaucracy for no reason is broadly the view of the Association of Labour Providers, the NFU and the HTA. With the national minimum wage (NMW) in place, there seems no reason for the quango to exist, particularly at a time when the Government is cutting costs.

On the other hand, union Unite and All-Party Parliamentary Gardening & Horticulture Group secretary Brian Donohoe are opposed to the end of the AWB. Unite's Ian Waddell said it "spells disaster for farming" and is "reckless, short-sighted and ideologically driven". He added that worker retention will fall, with bad employers undercutting the good.

Donohoe said the Government is going further than it needs to. "The economy isn't as bad as they suggest it is and what they are doing could lead to another recession - it will not be good for the industry." He broadened the argument to say that another side to the cuts problem is that local government - particularly parks - will get hammered. This is significant with CABE also being on the Government's quango-busting hitlist (see p3).

Donohoe said: "We have seen a shift from everything being done in-house and for the past 15 to 20 years it's been contracted out, and I don't think that's really an invested benefit."

So it seems that while the industry generally supports the end of the AWB, this could be the thin end of the wedge if parks are hit by similar political thinking - the thinking that brought in compulsory competitive tendering three decades ago.

While the NMW protects horticulture workers, what protects parks? Lord Heseltine told me that everyone is in the same boat when it comes to recession-led cutting. But the vulnerable need protection and in this case the vulnerable are low-paid horticulture workers and, more widely, parks and their skilled staff.

www.HorticultureWeek.co.uk/leader for recent leaders.

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