Today, by accident I came across a link at Unions Together who are asking people to email their MP to campaign against the Abolishment of the Agricultural Wages Board. The debate and vote on this abolition is on Tuesday 16th April - the day before Lady Thatchers Funeral. Thus the media and press eyes will not be on this little known debate and vote. It can easily slip through a vote that will wreak havoc, not only on Rural Workers, but has the potential to be the first step on the road to abolishing the Minimum Wage for all.
The Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) sets the Minimum Wage and terms of employment for Agricultural Workers. The Board has the power to set holiday pay and sick pay too. The Lib/Dem MP David Heath (twitter @davidheathmp) is leading the debate to abolish the AWB next Tuesday. Ironically his constituency is the rural Somerton and Frome in the South West - rich farming land. As a Lib/Dem who reportedly strives to support the Low Paid I was more than surprised he is seeking to abolish an organisation that upholds wages for the Low Paid! Ask him yourselves why he is doing this! He has not replied to me to date.
The big picture is once the Government has abolished the AWB - they can set about dismantling the Minimum Wage - not just for Rural Workers but for us all! They have 2 years until a General Election to do so, which is time enough.
People working in the countryside face challenges many of us take for granted. It simply costs far more than living in towns - Housing,Food, Fuel, Transport Costs are a lot higher. The wages are pretty low now - abolish the very organisation that protects them and they are left to the mercy of the Government, who lets face it are slashing costs/welfare for every vulnerable group in the UK. Far from a Minimum Wage to protect we should be campaigning for a Living Wage for all! On a recent Countryfile programme on BBC Hill Farmers were said to earn between £8k -£14k per year - hardly a fortune! With the March weather and snow recently,many Farmers and Farms will fold. Abolishing the AWB is "another brick in the wall" for them.
Many rural workers live in "Tied Housing". Not only will they be fearful for wages - they may lose the roof over their heads far quicker with no protection from the AWB. Young people, already forced from the villages of their birth due to cost, will desert the Agricultural Industry even more, where wages are poorer than currently and the future so bleak, thus exasperating the increasingly elderly population of Farmers and Farm Workers.
Another side effect of the abolition of the AWB could have sinister connotations. As we all know many Romanian and Bulgarian Immigrants will arrive in the UK in 2014. Herefordshire has already seen a huge increase in immigrants coming to take up seasonal work picking the produce of the countryside. While Immigrants may be quite happy to work for less than the Minimu Wage as it is more than they get in their home country, British Workers will not. Racial Tensions may occur if British Workers feel Immigrants are working for less than the going rate - and rightly so. British Workers will feel they are being priced out of their own jobs and homes and thus the tranquil countryside becomes a hotbed of racial tension and distrust.
I sincerely hope Mary Creagh MP the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stands up in the HoC next Tuesday and fights for the livelihoods and jobs of these Agricultural Workers. If the Government win, they will attempt to abolish the Minimum Wage for all.
On the same day next Tuesday April 16th, the HoC will also debate the "Shares for Rights" they wish employees to exchange in future. In a survey only 1% of Employers are keen on a legislation that will see employees trade their right to strike, or appeal etc for shares in a company. This again is an attempt to erode workers rights by bribing them basically! At a time when belonging to a Trade Union is near criminal in Coalition Eyes, again we cannot allow an unmandated Government to push through legislation that would see employees rights back in the Dark Ages. I have already seen major retailers on the new Retail Park in my town take on young people under 18 on two counts : their Minimum Wage is cheaper than those over 18, and these young people, on the whole do not know their rights, as they have been brought up in an era where Unions have been pushed to one side and to be a member of one is only for those who are politically motivated.
The Government wish to see this band of 16+s brought up in an era where the Employer is Omnipotent and Workfare widely spread and accepted by all.
I hope those who both care about Agricultural Workers, the Minimum Wage, and Employees Rights make as much noise as possible before April 16th on Twitter, Facebook and by emailing their MPs before the debates. You can find me on twitter @PinkWaferBelle - Bernadette Horton
Once these rights have been voted on and agreed by a majority in the HoC by a Government with no
mandate to act: there will be no going back and these rights will be lost forever. I am trying to do my bit. Will you do yours?