Future of the Agricultural Wages Board

07.02.13 Future of the Agricultural Wages Board discussion backlog

The AWB was seen as important because it reflected particular working practices in agriculture and simplified negotiations with employees.

But some believed it forced a one size fits all approach and that abolition showed forward thinking. It is important that businesses pay a competitive wage to attract the right employees, who will be an investment in the long-term.

Suggestions for what is best for agriculture included that the AWB should be retained, that it should modernise to reflect current employment better and that it could create a level playing field across the EU.

The discussion held on Thursday 31st January 2013 looked at the topic of “The future of the Agricultural Wages Board” and generated a total of 630 tweets on the topic from 109 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

Q1a Does the AWB still have a place in modern-day agriculture or is the system outdated?

  • 152,000 farm workers are covered by the protections of the AWB – and it’s not just minimum pay
  • If the wages board is scrapped what will be put in its place to safeguard Ag wages?
  • the Government decided on 19 December 2012 to proceed with abolition of the AWB for England and Wales
  • Do those who want to save the AWB also want to bring back all the other Wages Boards?
  • Worth considering: Scotland and N Ireland governments have retained the AWB, and the Welsh Government is trying to retain it
  • Subject to parliamentary approval intention is that ag workers will come within the scope of the NMW from 1 Oct 2013
  • outdated backward need better ways of working most workers supply and demand set the wage, min wage the base
  • If I were paid based on the AWB I’d literally be earning half. Is it really necessary?
  • If it’s protected by nat min wage board. Is that fair considering the hours and conditions in agricultural jobs?
  • So if the agricultural wages are protected what changes will happen if the AWB are abolished?
  • NFU believes AWB obsolete & generates additional administrative burden & forces a one size fits all approach on the industry
  • And who would want to do the amount of work in a day you do in agriculture for the minimum wage. Wake up
  • Gives a large proportion of workers protection in terms of holiday, working conditions and house.
  • we should be encouraging good people to add value to farm business and be rewarded fairly not set by arbitrary measures
  • I believe it does. Min wage regs do not take into account the specific nature of farm work
  • still come across people not paying AWB rates because they don’t think workers should be paid as much regardless of skill
  • No one likes Red Tape, so surely 64 pages of AWB are just that? The WTD and NMW are newer, so should cover all bases?
  • Yes AWB still imp. Farms most dangerous places to work in UK & AWB rewards workers who take H&S qualifs.
  • Although many small farmers argue for retention of AWB, as it simplifies negotiations
  • AWB is about fairness…clearly setting wages and conditions so they are the same all over the country.

Q2a How do u feel about the AWB? Do employers see this proposed abolition as a positive or negative step?

  • I’m hearing of employers worried about unnecessary risk of relationship breakdown when negotiations left to individuals.
  • could the abolition put an unnecessary strain on employer/employee relationships when negotiating a pay rise
  • If they get rid of AWB within 10yrs farmers will be running to Gov to sort out the disaster
  • valid concern expressed by many small farmers who don’t want hassle, cost and risk of individual negotiations
  • for some farmers an independently-set scale of pay/grades helps in wage talks
  • Why does ag need a special backstop and all other industry’s use min wage?
  • I have 5 friends all left agriculture to go into varied jobs, all say the same thing. Doss compared to farm work

Q3a Will you be cutting wages on your farm when AWB disappears or will you leave them at current levels?

  • farmworkers are a special case- long hours, isolated and vulnerable
  • Min wage is 1p less than awb
  • If we are struggling to attract enough new entrants to the industry now, how is a lower wage, less holidays etc. going to help
  • can’t change contract terms without negotiation. Poor employer who would look at cutting employee pay
  • I will carry on paying a competitive wage to keep and retain my staff have paid more than awb for a few years
  • how many new farm positions offer houses these days? I think it’s also becoming a thing of the past
  • T+Cs continue for existing staff, so wage cut not so relevant
  • Farming economy fragile, wage costs high % and sudden shifts in wages could precipitate exodus & unforeseen consequences?

Q3b Do you think it’s fair that farm workers have always been paid more than other jobs? 

  • Farm workers *aren’t* paid more than other workers as far as I can see – Yes, statutory minimum is more, but not average
  • if you consider the unsociable hours required for most farms jobs I think you naturally have to pay more
  • Are they??
  • It’s laudable that many pay above rate – but yes, AWB puts a base on pay AND conditions

Q4 If AWB is abolished how will u go about deciding what u are prepared to offer in terms of wages & terms?

  • as a farmer and former union rep, every farmer would have create terms and conditions for their farm workers
  • isn’t it a disappointment that we’re talking about awb and min wage, not skills development, new entrant opps + wage potential?
  • I have pay review annually. I think I have a pretty good employer though. And am very happy with my deal
  • trade unions are there to help both employees and employers
  • farmers should do appraisals and look at wages annually at an appropriate time for them every farm and workers needs are diff
  • Abolition of AWB makes for a free market (subject to NMW); your competition will decide for you what you have to pay!
  • Going rate is £6.52/hr. AWB or £6.19 hr. NMW
  • £6.22 awb vs. £6.19 nmw. 3p difference in Scotland or 2p in England

Q4b As an employer, where do we stand with re-negotiating employees contracts?

  • Should be looking to provide good conditions training, pay for staff not looking at an 80 pg booklet
  • what’s a fair wage for doing what you love, what you’re educated and trained in & given a free reign to do your own thing?
  • does the awb take age into account at all? Or is it all skill based?
  • Re-negotiating employment contracts? That’s an absolute minefield!
  • personally u shld pay the right amount for the right person as they should be an investment to help take your business forward.

Q5 Why do 21 people set terms and conditions for 142,000 workers – is that a fair approach to wage agreements?

  • why do 600 MP’s set the terms for 60 million people this is called democracy
  • AWB outdated, costly (£1m+) Quango. Ag values /rewards great workers. Grade 1 protected by NMW & WTD. What’s the issue?
  • The Scottish Agricultural Wages Board will be retained. Pay rates for all farm work here will still be set by it

Q6 What message is abolishing the AWB sending out when we’re trying to attract more people into farming?

  • better question would be: What message is HAVING a wages board sending out to young people considering farming as a career?
  • Every man for himself? Are both sides of the industry prepared to handle that?
  • Getting rid of an outdated system shows young people that farming is dynamic, exciting and a rewarding career for the future
  • Agri is a modern industry which can invest in skilled people using T&C’s to suit position.
  • Want that new car or start family in your local village home. Come to farming “we’ll give you ….”
  • abolishing the AWB is the wrong signal to send to young people attracted to farming
  • In all walks of life you get what you pay for and farming is no different. The people we want to attract also know this!
  • That we are a modern industry with a sense of ambition capable of recognising valued workforce
  • Not necess negative. Young people today savvy, self-reliant, want flexibility
  • Having a wages board sends a message about fragmented workforce, isolation, bad conditions – it’s not like that in 21c!
  • There’s crowd of us likeminded young ag workers who want share of the business not salaried wages – incentive to work not shirk
  • is it sufficiently similar to other industries for free market to work well unaided?
  • It should send the message to learn, improve and motivate to become the best to achieve a higher wage
  • premium staff premium price happy to pay more: increased performance=increased profit
  • How many young people know about the AWB when making their decision to go into Farming?

Q7 What are the implications for some rural communities of AWB abolition?

  • It might be another nail in the coffin for the traditional way of farming
  • Farms are not going to suddenly stop over night because of a lack of AWB; the effect on communities will be minimal!
  • Last few remaining young people in villages work in agriculture. 2ndhomers+the old kill villages.
  • potential impacts on pockets of 152,000 workers & on rural multiplier
  • encourages foreign workers who can afford to work for nothing and don’t spend in the local community
  • gov’ts own figures show massive potential impact – of up to £1/4bn on struggling rural economies
  • Farming has always adapted itself to new methods and business models
  • In 2000, David heath said abolition of AWB would ‘impoverish the rural working class, exacerbating social deprivation and the undesirable indicators associated with social exclusion.’ What’s changed?

Q8 What do u propose is best for the industry – the AWB, the NMW, or something totally different? thoughts?

  • Level playing field in the market at home and within the EU. (Some would say pipe dream; others would say ambition)
  • A modernised AWB reflecting current employment i.e. salaries etc. negotiation not confrontation.
  • the AWB was fine! If it ain’t broke don’t fix it!
  • Can’t mix EU farming subsidy with free market competition, won’t work. When people pay farmers true cost of food, abolish AWB
  • AWB + All farm owners/managers should spend a month in a factory dealing with unions,shop stewards and real H&S
  • labour is one of biggest costs on farm, need efficient workforce, well paid and motivated to return investment in them
  • it’s all well & good saying everyone needs paying more.. But that ‘more’ isn’t easy to find. No matter what business you work for
  • 10yrs time industry will have changed again regardless. Good biz will have a choice of staff bad biz will struggle 2 find staff
  • I think if the AWB was abolished more workers would be encouraged to become self-employed, which in turn means more expense

Simon Haley, Reading Agricultural Consultants, and Alan Spedding, 11 February 2013

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