Report on impact of Act upon agricultural workers

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 20th November 2018.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:00 pm, 20th November 2018

We had a similar discussion about an amendment earlier. I do not intend to speak for too long, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I disagree with him for reasons that I have set out. As he knows, the Agricultural Wages Board was established way back in 1948. There were lots of other boards around at that time, covering different sectors. Most of them were phased out during the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s; the Agricultural Wages Board was the last one standing.

Things changed fundamentally. There was a review of the Agricultural Wages Board in the mid-1990s, and in the end a decision was made not to take action. After the national minimum wage was introduced by the previous Labour Government and adopted by the Conservative Government, and, more importantly, after this Conservative Government introduced the new national living wage, the Agricultural Wages Board’s raison d’être was no longer there. It has been superseded by other pieces of legislation and minimum wage requirements. We currently have a national minimum wage of £7.83, and the national living wage is soon to go to £8.75. We therefore already have protections through the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Equality Act 2010. There is lots of legislation to protect agricultural wages.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view that the negotiating apparatus that operated alongside the Agricultural Wages Board is necessary. There were problems with the way that it worked. It did not, for instance, allow the payment of annual salaries to some management staff so hours and payments could be averaged across the year. That would help people get mortgages to buy homes. There were reports that, because people received a weekly wage based only on the hourly rate, it was difficult for them to demonstrate to mortgage lenders that they satisfied their criteria.

More importantly, the very formulaic tiers of wages did not enable people who were doing particularly well and were on their way to progression or to a management role to be rewarded, unless they had the right craftsman qualification. It took away employers’ flexibility to reward their staff, because everything was set in a very formulaic way. I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s romantic view of the Agricultural Wages Board; it was restrictive and stopped more progressive approaches to payments, including salary development. Insofar as it gave protection for minimum wages, its role has been superseded.