Fair trade campaigners have rightly highlighted the plight of farmers in other parts of the world. Yet there is now a threat to farm workers in our own country. For over 60 years, fruit pickers, labourers and farm workers have had their pay and conditions protected by the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB). The Government is now proposing to abolish this body as part of its drive to cut red-tape.
The AWB is a small body which costs the Government no money and sets fair wages and conditions for 140,000 agricultural workers in England – and around 120 in the Rother Valley.
This week MPs debated the Public Bodies Bill in Parliament, which included a clause to abolish the AWB. The Government says it is committed to fairness but the abolition of the AWB will lead to lower wages in the countryside, and a worse deal for farm workers.
This is an unjustified attack on some of our lowest paid workers who do an essential job in one of our most dangerous industries. At the heart of Britain’s biggest manufacturing industry – the food production sector – farming needs more skilled workers. Instead the Government is encouraging employers to join a race to the bottom on pay that will see skilled workers turn their back on the industry.
That is why I voted to keep the AWB and support a fair deal for those who work in the countryside.