Labour is to launch its new fairness for the countryside campaign, dubbed Back the Apple, to protect pay and conditions for England’s farm workers and fruit pickers.
The party said that the coalition Government’s plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board as part of the Public Bodies Bill which had its Second Reading in the House of Commons this week, will leave thousands of farm workers out of pocket.
The Agricultural Wages Board has protected pay and conditions for farm workers, from apprentices to supervisors. According to Labour, there are currently 140,000 people in England who have their pay set by the AWB. The board also covers holiday, sick pay and overtime.
A statement from the Labour Party said: “Fruit pickers and farm workers will see their wages fall if the AWB is abolished and the National Minimum Wage replaces their current AWB wage.
“Workers could lose between £150 and £265 a week in sick pay. The AWB also sets a minimum wage of £2.98 an hour for school age children working at weekends or on summer jobs – but they are not covered by minimum wage legislation.”
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh, who is the MP for Wakefield, added: “Labour is launching the Back the Apple campaign to show our commitment to fairness in the countryside. We want to raise awareness of pay and conditions in the countryside and to head off the Tory-led government’s race to the bottom for rural workers and their families who are feeling the squeeze.
“These protections make sure that fruit pickers and farm workers get a fair deal.
“David Cameron talks a lot about fairness, but his unfair actions speak louder than words and will hit the pockets of rural workers across the country. Labour’s Back the Apple campaign shows we will continue to speak up for the countryside.”
The Government says that the reforms it is carrying out at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which include the scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board, will make the department more streamlined, with some older bodies having to be removed to move with the times. The move was backed at the time by the NFU who called it an “industrial relic”.