Defra announces plans to scrap AWB

"Outdated and bureaucratic" farm labour restrictions will be abolished next year, farming minister David Heath announced on 19 December.

Defra’s plans to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) – a panel setting pay which was abolished in all other sectors almost 20 years ago – have been included in a bill going through Parliament.

It will mean that the law governing agricultural wages will be harmonised with the rest of the economy. This will end "an anomaly requiring farmers to follow outdated and bureaucratic rules dating back to the beginning of the 20th century".

Heath said: "Scrapping these outdated and bureaucratic rules will significantly reduce burdens to farmers while keeping workers extremely well protected.

"I’m convinced it’s the right move to help agriculture take advantage of the huge opportunities to prosper in coming years."

Research shows that in line with the Government’s work to reduce bureaucracy in the food and farming industry, farmers will save significant time, effort and costs in no longer meeting two sets of legislation.

This will lead to a more flexible market and make it far easier for employees to receive annual salaries, rather than hourly wages, in line with modern personal finance arrangements, said Defra.

The AWB sets minimum wage rates for six categories of agricultural workers in England and Wales. Under the board, the current minimum wage is two pence higher than the National Minimum Wage, but most workers already receive pay above the wage minimums.

The plans were added as an amendment to the Department for Business Industry and Skills' Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill at Lords Committee stage on 19 December.

The decision was made after Defra "carefully" considered responses to its consultation.

Abolition of the board will depend on the passage of the bill through Parliament, but Defra hopes the National Minimum Wage will apply to agricultural workers from 1 October 2013.

Unite accused the government of attacking working people with the move. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "If the case for scrapping the Board, which has served generations of rural workers and their communities, is so compelling, then the government should publish the evidence."

The HTA welcomed the news while the NFU said it was "necessary and correct".

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "For the NFU, the next phase of work begins. We have committed to provide information and guidance to the industry to support wage negotiations between individual businesses and their workers in the future. We’ll be working with our members and stakeholders in the new year to progress this pledge."


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