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.
What better way to spend a glorious spring day than to join Labour Party and trade union colleagues at a rally in Leeds city centre against the bedroom tax? This is an ill-thought out policy that victimises some of the most vulnerable people in the community and will have a devastating effect on many people throughout Elmet and Rothwell.
Karen Bruce walking behind the Unite banner.
Karen Bruce with the GMB bed.
Councillor Alex Sobel and Councillor Karen Bruce.
Karen Bruce and Elmet and Rothwell GMB member Bob Dyson.
Former Leeds councillor and Pudsey Labour Party member John Garvarni unveils the Unite the Union banner.
Musical light relief at the Leeds against the bedroom tax rally.
I’m a bit late posting this photo, because I’ve been busy out talking to Labour Party members in Elmet and Rothwell for the Parliamentary selection. On Thursday I went with my daughter Esme to join the demonstration outside Leeds Civic Hall in support of the bin workers and street cleaners who are having their pay slashed by the Tory/Lib Dem council. It was a great event and everyone was rooting for the Unite, Unison and GMB members.
On Friday I had dinner with friends who aren’t particularly political, but were disgusted and horrified when they discovered what the bin strike was actually about. They had no idea that these hard workers, who are out every day in all weathers, were facing such massive pay cuts – £5-£6K when they only earn about £18K to begin with. It totally changed their perspective on the strike from being annoyed that their bins hadn’t been entered to being furious at Tory and Lib Dem councillors who are treating the refuse workers to shamefully.
I’m delighted and honoured to be able to let you all know that Unite the Union, Britain’s biggest trade union, has nominated me to be the prospective Parliamentary candidate for Elmet and Rothwell. Every local Labour Party branch and affiliated organisation (which includes trade unions) is allowed to nominate three prospective candidates – one man, one woman and one BAME (black, Asian, minority ethnic). I’m the only local candidate to receive a nomination. This is a real boost and local members have already contacted me to say how pleased they are. One texted me to say: “I’m glad Unite are fully supporting you.”
The support of Unite for me as the local candidate is really important to me. The Labour Party was born from within the trade union movement and it’s not a link that she should let lapse. I’ve been a union member for all my working life. First as a member of Unison, when I was a local government officer and Unison was Britain’s biggest trade union. I then joined the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) which merged with Amicus to become Unite the Union, which overtook Unison to take the top slot as the biggest trade union.
Despite the differences and hiccups along the way Labour needs the unions and the unions need Labour. That’s why I’m so delighted to have Unite’s support.
The talks between Leeds City Council and the trade unions (Unite, GMB, Unison) have failed. About what you’d expect when they are the responsibility of a Liberal Democrat leader of a Tory/Lib Dem council.
The trade unions have been trying to have a sensible discussion with Leeds City Council as to how to resolve the proposed pay cuts which the council is trying to impose on bin workers as a result of the court rulings to do with the different pay levels between men and women doing similar jobs. Led by Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Richard Brett, the Tory/Lib Dem council has been obstructive every step of the way.The council is proposing massive£6,000 per year pay cuts for the hard working staff in the refuse and street cleaning departments.
Bill Chard, organiser for the GMB explained: “There seems to be a complete lack of understanding and basic decency on behalf of the leadership of the council and their highly paid managers. I cannot comprehend why they believe such huge cuts of this magnitude would be acceptable to our members. This strike will cause mayhem in Leeds and they must take the blame.
“Our members take this action out of desperation; they know however they juggle their home finances they will not be able to pay their household bills. This situation has been hanging over their families for over 12 months, it is intolerable. I hope that council leader Richard Brett can live with his conscience.”
A bin strike won’t be good for the people of Leeds and is likely to cause us all considerable inconvenience. But the Tories and Lib Dems should remember that Leeds folk are made of strong stuff and they won’t take kindly to a handful of well-paid councillors trying to cut the pay of workers who provide us with essential services.