LONG WINTER FOR AGRICULTURAL WORKERS

26 October 2011

UPDATE December 2012
DEFRA announced on 19 December 2012 that the AWB would be abolished on 1 October 2013, assuming the Enterprise and regulatory reform bill passes. Of the consultation responses to the proposed changes 61 percent opposed abolition of the AWB.

ORIGINAL POST 26 November 2011
In the post Tolpuddle and the Agricultural Wages Board (18 July 2011) I wrote about the proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for England (and possibly or possibly not of Wales) by the Tory Libdem government. I noted Andrew George, the Libdem MP for St Ives, opposed abolition but voted for the second reading of the bill that enabled it.

On 25 October 2011 the Public Bodies bill, including that part that deals with the AWB, was discussed in the Commons again.

The arguments were broadly the same as before. The government believes agricultural wages and conditions should be left to the market and anyway the minimum wage (£6.08 an hour) will protect those at the bottom from falling off a cliff. Opponents say that agricultural workers are vulnerable and poorly paid and abolition will lead to a worsening of pay and conditions such a overtime and sick pay. I find the reasoned arguments and details of the opponents of abolition much more convincing than a government policy that guarantees nothing but enables a worsening of the circumstances of low paid and isolated workers.

Andrew George argued for what he called a compromise, in effect as I understand it, the abolition of the AWB and a continuation of its work through the Low Pay Commission. In its amendment 32 Labour sought to stop abolition.

George got hard criticism from a couple of Labour MPs and his amendment was tossed aside by his government. However, he rightly voted with Labour for its amendment 32 and should be congratulated on that. It will be interesting to see how he votes on the third reading of this bill which enables the abolition he opposes.

Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson, the other two Libdem MPs from Cornwall, along with the three Tories, voted against the amendment and thus for enabling abolition of the AWB. There will now be a public consultation but does anyone seriously expect anything other than abolition?

I shall go on noting the shame that is the Liberal Democrat party. I think too that it is time Andrew George took a long, hard look at the party he is in.

Notes
Jude Robinson blogs on the abolition of the AWB

St Ives Libdems draw attention to George’s vote against the government

Andrew George in Farmers Guardian 11 November 2010 on the abolition of the AWB:
“My colleagues in government are wrong to remove regulations which give agricultural workers reasonable protection for their pay terms and conditions of work,” he said. “If I thought that by following this policy farm workers would be better paid or have better conditions then I’d support it. But, I think we all know that the opposite is the most likely consequence.”

Early day motion 892 of June 2000
“AGRICULTURAL WAGES BOARD
That this House … believes that any weakening of the Agricultural Wages Board or its abolition would further impoverish the rural working class, exacerbating social deprivation and the undesirable indicators associated with social exclusion; and therefore calls on the Government at the conclusion of the current review, to retain the Agricultural Wages Board as it is currently constituted.”
Signatories to the EDM included Candy Atherton (Labour, Camborne and Falmouth) and the four Libdem MPs for St Ives, Truro and St Austell, South East Cornwall, and North Cornwall. Three are still in parliament: Andrew George as an MP and Matthew Taylor and Paul Tyler as members of the House of Lords.

25 October 2012 update
The consultation on the abolition of the AWB is here. It runs from 16 October to 12 November 2012


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