Labour fury as wages board abolished

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MEASURES to abolish an “archaic” wages board that sets minimum pay levels for farmworkers have cleared their final hurdle in the Lords despite opposition from Labour peers who warn the move will suck £260 million out of the rural economy.

Coalition peers have pushed through the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), which sets a minimum wage level for farmworkers each year.

The Government says the board is a “relic” of the 20th century, and is no longer necessary thanks to minimum wage legislation.

Speaking in the Lords, Tory peer Viscount Younger of Leckie said the move would “simplify employment legislation” for around 40,000 farm businesses in England and Wales, and ensure the “same levels of employment protection for agricultural workers as for workers in all other sectors of the economy”.

He went on: “The abolition of the agricultural minimum wage will remove the need for farm businesses to operate two employment regimes, and end the confusion of whether activities fall within the national minimum wage regime or the agricultural minimum wage regime.

“It is widely accepted the legislation which underpins the Agricultural Wages Board is outdated and hampers the ability of the industry to offer more modern, flexible employment packages.”

Labour has battled to keep the board in place, warning that the Government’s own impact assessment shows its abolition is likely to take £260 million out of the rural economy over the next 10 years through lost sick and holiday pay.

The party has pledged to make it a key issue in the forthcoming county council elections in North Yorkshire, to be held in May.

Shadow Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies described the Government’s approach as “shameful”.