Do migrants price local people out of jobs in agriculture?
“The Abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board
10 May 2013
In 2010, the Coalition Government announced its intention to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, as part of its shake-up of public bodies. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 abolishes the Agricultural Wages Board from 25 June 2013. The 31 Agricultural Wages Committees and Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees will also be abolished at the same time.
The Agricultural Wages Board, which was established by the Agricultural Wages Act 1948 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/11-12/47/contents/enacted), has a statutory obligation to fix minimum wages for workers employed in agriculture in England and Wales. The rate of pay depends on the type of work involved. The Board also has powers to decide other terms and conditions of employment for agricultural workers, such as holidays and sick pay. It produces a legally binding Agricultural Wages Order, which is enforced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The Order is made annually and normally comes into force on 1 October. The current Order is due to expire on 30 September 2013.
The effect of abolition is that employers will be able to take on new agricultural workers on less generous terms and conditions than under the Agricultural Wages Order, provided they comply with employment law generally, such as the provisions of the National Minimum Wage Regulations and the Working Time Regulations.
Whether existing workers are entitled to continue to be paid at the rates prescribed by the current Agricultural Wages Order will depend upon the wording of their contracts of employment. If the contract states simply that the worker is entitled only to the statutory minimum, then that will probably be treated as meaning the National Minimum Wage Regulations and so the employer is likely to be able to reduce the worker’s wages down to national minimum wage rates. If, however, the contract of employment is unclear or states that the worker is entitled to the rates under the Agricultural Wages Order, then the employer is likely to have to continue to pay the rates prescribed by the current Agricultural Wages Order until the national minimum wage rates rise to meet or exceed the levels set out in the Agricultural Wages Order.
If the employer makes unlawful reductions in the worker’s wages, it is likely to give rise to a constructive unfair dismissal claim and/or a claim for unlawful deduction from wages. Employers should therefore check their workers’ contracts of employment and take legal advice if necessary.
The changes will not affect Scotland and Northern Ireland, which have their own Agricultural Wages Boards and have no plans to abolish them. The Welsh Assembly, however, was opposed to abolition and may try to create a separate Welsh Agricultural Wages Board.”
Were there any migrants in the UK in 1948 driving down wages in the agricultural industry, particularly in the East of England? The prisoners of war had gone home. Most immigrants were heading to the urban bright lights. Working in agriculture has been poorly paid for centuries, particularly since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The beauty of the countryside hides rural poverty and has done so before Thomas Hardy put pen to paper.
The AWB survived the scrapping of the other boards by John Major and had survived the era of Mrs Thatcher (http://www.eurofound.europa.eu/emire/UNITED%20KINGDOM/WAGESCOUNCILS-EN.htm). The AWB was abolished by the Coalition on 1st October 2013 (http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unite-stands-by-farm-workers-as-agricultural-wages-board-is-axed-today/). Perhaps someone should ask Nigel Farage if ukip would bring it back into existence and so do something practical for the rural poor? May be Mr Fallon might think about calling for it to be brought back? Perhaps Labour should come out fighting on the issue (http://www.tuc.org.uk/economic-issues/labour-market/bring-back-wages-councils-tackle-living-standards-crisis)? And Clegg? Probably best if he keeps his mouth shut. The Liberal Democrats have talked about setting regional National Minimum Wage rates.
Labour has brought back into existence a Welsh Agricultural Wages Board in the teeth of fierce opposition from the heirs of Thatcher (http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/agriculture-wages-bill-uk-government-7394743). Incidentally, the leader of the Tory antis in the Welsh Assembly is a farmer, but she was not campaigning on behalf of herself, it seems. She also declines to say how much she receives in the way of agricultural subsidies (aka taxpayers’ money) from the European Union. She benefits from an AWB for farmers, just like ukip’s former candidate in Clacton, another farmer. And ukip has announced (see Agriculture and Fishing) that it will replace taxpayer funded subsidies for farmers via Brussels with taxpayer funded subsidies direct from the UK Treasury.
Of course, Farage and fellow travellers on the right say migrants push down wages in agriculture so everyone agrees with him, seemingly across the political spectrum. This theory supports the views of opponents of the EU and anti-neo liberals. It gives reporters, looking for a simple narrative, a ‘common sense’ story to present, requiring no research apart from a vox pop. At the margin may be migrants in some localities have moderated wage rises, but there are other more significant issues affecting the state of agriculture and impacting on workers within the industry. Issues that cannot even be tenuously linked to migration; a major one of them being our demand, as consumers, for cheap food. These issues do not fit the preferred story. They will feature in further posts on my blog shortly, along with other related labour market issues from elsewhere in the UK economy.
Finally, ukip, like the Countryside Alliance before it, is looking to cynically exploit the plight of the rural poor for its own ends. ukip is going after the votes of the landed gentry and foxhunting class and that class have no interest in improving the conditions of their employees and tenants. If they did, then surely they do not have to wait for ukip to win power to do so?