A proposal to raise the standard and craft rates of pay for nearly 150,000 farm workers and staff employed in horticulture and fruit picking was given a cautious welcome today by union leaders.
The T&G section of Unite – the union, which represented the employee side at the Agricultural Wages Board, said the increase would take the rate of pay for the bulk of countryside workers to the £6 the union has been campaigning for for some time.
The craft grade has broken through the £7 barrier to a minimum of £7.08. The basic entry rate remained pegged to the National Minimum Wage and will increase by 3.2 per cent to £5.52 but the union said they had won assurances that this will not be a permanent peg.
A working party has been set up from the Board to deal with the issue of exploitation of migrant workers through excessive charges levied for those in multi-occupancy accommodation. A separate working party will look at the union’s demand for a farm workers’ pension scheme.
Speaking after the talks Chris Kaufman, T&G section of Unite national secretary for agriculture, said some progress had been made towards the decent pay levels which were needed to ensure younger people, in particular, chose to stay in farming.
“We are reasonably satisfied with this outcome, which keeps pace with inflation, but will keep the pressure on to put farm and horticulture pay on to a new and higher level and end the low pay culture,” he said. “We have also put some very clear markers down with the employers about how the industry deals with the problem of exploitation of migrant workers.”
The union made it clear to the employers that the industry must recognise the need for a fundamental pay overhaul in future. Citing independent figures which showed that labour costs in agriculture fell by 5 per cent last year as productivity rose and that labour now accounts for only 14 per cent of all costs, Mr. Kaufman said the scope was there for movement.
The proposals will be subject to a 6 week consultation with a confirmation meeting on the 28th June. The new rates will take effect from 1st October 2007