Food and farming policy association, Sustain Alliance, has released a briefing asking for a new farming body to be introduced into England to negotiate wages and better conditions for agriculture workers.
This announcement comes days after Jeremy Corbyn pledged to reinstate the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) which was axed by David Cameron’s Conservative government in 2013.
Sustain Alliance said more than 40% of the UK’s agricultural workforce are employees, rather than farmers or family labour, yet English agriculture workers (unlike those in Wales and Scotland) have no statutory protection for their pay and conditions since the abolition of the AWB.
It said this left English agriculture workers “more vulnerable to unfavourable wages” and “conditions in a system where markets do not value agricultural workers as vital contributors to our food chain”. The association went on to say these changes should be part of the new UK Agriculture Bill due in summer 2018 after the parliamentary recess.
Sustain Alliance said that the EU referendum result had made it harder for farmers to recruit and retain farm workers because of the fall in value of sterling and a “more hostile climate” for migrant workers. It said some farmers had unpicked crops going to waste while others said they were planning to move their businesses abroad, or had done so already.
Vicki Hird, Sustainable Farming campaign coordinator for Sustain Alliance, said: “We are facing a real crisis in farm workers so it makes sense to reconsider how they are able to secure decent wages, conditions and development opportunities.
“The loss of the agricultural wages board was far from popular amongst farmers as well as workers, as it provided an easy tool for farmers and a level playing field. It needs to be reinstated, otherwise who will want to pick our crops?”
Diana Holland, assistant secretary general of Unite the Union added: “Unite strongly welcomes the focus from Sustain on the ‘race to the bottom’ down the food supply chain, and the call for a new collective bargaining body for agricultural workers. Food security is essential to us all, and Unite is clear, we need safe healthy food and high quality jobs.”