‘Some are really on rock-bottom wages’

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WITH more than 30 years’ experience working as a labourer on farms across Yorkshire, Tim Hogan is well aware of the issues surrounding low pay in rural areas.

“Some labourers will be on decent enough money,” he says. “But some really are working on rock-bottom wages.

“There’s lots of people working on bottom-level money.

“It can be skilled work as a farmhand, but the problem is that farm workers are in a very weak position to negotiate.

“You’ve got small groups of men working in small units and so it’s difficult to get organised – there’s never been a farm workers’ strike, has there?

High levels of immigration over recent years have also driven down wages, he believes.

“If there are three or four Polish lads working on a farm for rock-bottom wages you’re not going to see the pay go up,” he says.

Mr Hogan says he is all too conscious of the huge disparities between pay in rural and urban areas.

“There’s a hell of a difference,” he says.

“Lads I know in certain industries would not get out of bed for what we get paid.”

Helen Benson is a co-ordinator for the Farm Crisis Network and the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust, two organisations which offer support to low-earning workers in rural areas.

“It’s not easy,” she says. “Farm workers need to be highly skilled these days, and therefore they ought to be highly paid.

“But the farmers themselves are often extremely financially challenged.

“And it seems things are only going to get worse – farm workers are regulated by the Agricultural Wages Board, which is one of the quangos which is going to be abolished.

“So with no regulation and no recourse for support you are simply looking at the minimum wage, and that’s a real cause for concern.”

The situation for many gamekeepers is little better, she says.

“There’s no regulating body at all there, and while some gamekeepers do very well, others work for an absolute pittance,” she says.

“They get a tied house, but they are not paid any overtime – and I’ve known gamekeepers working long hours for less than £100 a week.

“Yet they continue to do it because they love the job.”