Today Conservative MPs voted to block a motion in the House of Commons to prevent the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB). The AWB was set-up in 1948 to provide essential protection for agricultural workers and ensure they had fair wages and conditions.
The motion was proposed by Wakefield MP Mary Creagh who is also Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. One of the facts that I find most shocking is that the AWB was one wages board that the last Tory government tried to abolish in the 1980s, but was a cut too far so they couldn’t get away with it. This is a cut that even Mrs Thatcher daren’t go ahead with. So much for Cameron’s ‘caring’ Conservatives!
According to the government’s own estimates the abolition of the AWB will take £260 million out of the rural economy over 10 years in lost sick pay and holiday entitlement. This won’t just hurt the agricultural workers, but will also take money out of villages shops and pubs, hurting many small businesses and their workers. Many small farms will also be burdened with extra bureaucracy and red tape as they will be forced to negotiate pay and conditions themselves, which many farmers aren’t experienced enough or trained to do.
It could also cost hard-working tax payers money as if the incomes of rural workers fall then they could need tax credits, housing benefit and council tax benefit. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat government increasing the size of the welfare benefits bill when we are meant to by trying to save money!
The abolition of the AWB has been opposed by the Labour Party and trade unions. Unite the Union’s national officer for agriculture Julia Long said: “Supermarkets and the growers, who supply them, are behind the Agricultural Wages Board’s abolition proposal as they want to drive down workers’ wages to poverty levels.”
Despite large parts of the Elmet and Rothwell constituency being rural with many farms and agricultural workers our local Tory MP Alec Shelbrooke today failed to speak up or vote for the people he is meant to represent.
If I’d been Elmet and Rothwell’s MP today I’d not only have voted for the motion, but would also have spoken in the debate to defend the rights of hard-working local agricultural workers. I think the government should be helping rural families deal with rising living costs, not driving wages and conditions down.