Agricultural Wages Board Abolished in England and Wales

Agricultural Wages BoardOfficial announcement came from parliament yesterday the Agriculture Wages Board (AWB) will be abolished as of 1st October 2013.

Unite have been actively campaigning since 2010 to keep the AWB in place, to protect the rural villages throughout England and Wales. To no avail as it’s now set to go ahead.

The abolishment of the AWB will put more money back into the economy, admit government officials. As much as £240m over the course of 10 years. That’s a cost to the 150’000 agricultural workers through England and Wales as their wages are set to fall.

The agriculture and horticulture industry is the last in the UK to have separate wage structure to the national minimum wage. In some cases, the minimum wages are higher, due to the different grades of pay.

Farm workers in particular who work long hours, are expected to be the hardest hit.

The rates of pay and conditions set by the AWB stipulated that any farm worker contracted to work over 39 hours per week, must be paid a minimum weekly wage. For hours that fell under the 39 hours, minimum hourly rates must be met.

The rates were set out by grades, one through to six. Grade one full-time wages would see a farm worker starting after leaving school, paid £242.19 minimum per week. A rate of £6.21 per hour with overtime payable at £9.32 per hour.

Grade 3 wages are paid to those with a minimum agricultural NVQ. In the industry, this would qualify as a skilled worker. That would pay £298.74 minimum per week for 39 hours. Hourly, that’s £7.66 ph. Overtime qualifies for a higher rate of £11.49.

Not bad wages but farm workers are grafting to earn that.

There’s not many industries left where you can qualify with an NVQ and earn a minimum of £16k per annum, before OT allowances.

The Agricultural Wages Board has regulated the industry for decades. It is expected that the abolition will throw thousands of rural workers into poverty, as they transition onto the national minimum wage requirements.

The pay difference from grade six – management level farm workers

This is the shocking part, and one that concerns the industry workers the most. When the time comes, those in managerial positions of farms, responsible for employment and training of staff, are currently earning the minimum pay of £9.40 per hour, for 39 hours. That rises to £14.10 for any overtime worked, under the current rules set by the AWB.

Typical salaries in farm management would earn a minimum £20’000 per annum plus bonuses and incentives.

As of October 1st 2013, those rates of pay could be history, as farm owners are not obliged to maintain the salaries currently required, and will be able to lower the pay to the minimum hourly rate of £6.31, which comes into effect nationally, on October 1st  2013.

Minimum wage salaries are now going to average £12’000 per annum, with an hourly flat rate, with no overtime incentives required.

It’s a huge chunk of money coming out of farm workers household budgets, and that’s why it’s going to throw thousands into poverty, as they struggle to deal with the loss of income.

The employment outlook for agricultural work on farms

It’s certainly bleak at the moment. The news of the Agricultural Wages Board abolishment has shocked the farming communities throughout England and Wales.

For the time being, farmers employing staff are being urged to protect themselves with the updated employment rights issues now facing them.

Any new employee being brought in between now and September will need carefully reviewed contractual agreements of employments. For farmers who already have employees, they are being urged to seek legal advice with regards to the contractual obligations already in place, as reviews of employment contracts may need to be taken to ensure they’re in line with the national employment legislations.

DEFRA – The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs report that the AWB abolition will lead to market flexibility, by making business more affordable for farm owners. It will also bring agricultural employees into modern day salaries. Where wages are paid as an annual salary, in line with modern day finance.