Agricultural Wages Board

Oral Answers to Questions — Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 4th May 2021.

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Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance 3:15 pm, 4th May 2021

T2. Mr Dickson asked the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, in relation to his proposal to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board, to explain the reasoning and rationale for that decision and to state the stage that he is at. (AQT 1262/17-22)

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

For years, we were told, and virtually all parties said, that we needed to reduce quangos. The Agricultural Wages Board is a quango. I have not gone back on my word on reducing quangos. Such a board does not exist in any other sector. We do not have a health wages board, an education wages board or a builders' wages board. The Agricultural Wages Board was there when agriculture wages were very low and we did not have minimum pay, and before a series of conditions on pensions, sick pay, maternity pay and paternity pay, for instance, were put in place. All those things have obviated the need for much of the work that the Agricultural Wages Board did in the past. There is therefore no point in keeping a quango when it is unnecessary.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

Minister, you are echoing the words of the Ulster Farmers' Union and its rationale behind wishing to scrap the Agricultural Wages Board. You have cited a range of types of employment, but all of them have well-developed, collective bargaining and other negotiating arrangements for pay. The agriculture sector is not heavily trade unionised, and many of its people live in rural, diverse and widely spaced out communities. You should therefore reflect on the matter and join the trade union movement in suggesting that we need to retain the Agricultural Wages Board for the reasons that I have outlined. It concerns a group of people for whom there are little or no collective bargaining arrangements in place.

Photo of Edwin Poots Edwin Poots DUP

The Member mentions collective bargaining, but what is more important is individual bargaining. The truth is that it is hard to get young people who want to go out in inclement weather and work in physical conditions, and that will continue to be the case as things go forward and there are more challenges in bringing people from other countries into Northern Ireland to carry out work. The best negotiating position exists when labour is more in demand than the other way around, so people working in the farming community at this time can demand a good source of income, and get it, because, if the farmer needs them, the farmer is going to have to pay for them. It is as simple as that.