Examination of Witnesses

Part of Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:24 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Diana Holland:

The measures we were thinking about have previously been raised in a number of submissions: first, looking at the impact of the Bill on workers in agriculture, and secondly, looking specifically at the reinstatement of the protections of the Agricultural Wages Board, which currently exists, in some form, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but not in England.

Why do we think that is important? We do not think that agricultural workers are like every other worker; we think that they are different and their experiences are different. As a union with an incredibly long history of representing them, we speak from experience. They have a special place in the union, and we think that they should have a special place in the Agriculture Bill, too.

Right this moment, the director of labour market enforcement has a session going on to look specifically at the problems of wage theft and employment law non-compliance in agriculture. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority has had a licensing system in agriculture for 15 years, but it is still recognised as an area with a high level of exploitation and threat of exploitation. That is the background to this.

When the Agricultural Wages Board covered everywhere, there was a level of protection and information that is no longer available to us. Increasingly, you will find that statistics relating to agriculture have little stars by them and a note at the bottom saying, “The sample figures are too small.” That does not mean that there are no other workers to record; it means that they are not hitting any of the official ways of recording people. Increasingly, we find that people are employed in different ways, meaning that they are not recognised in the official statistics in the way they used to be. The Agricultural Wages Board provided a way of ensuring that all that information came to the forefront.

Finally, we have always argued that safe, healthy food and high-quality jobs go hand in hand. There is lots of evidence that where workers are badly treated, there is also an undercutting of food quality standards across the board. We see this as part of ensuring and protecting food standards, food security, supply chains and all the other issues in the Bill. They all have workers associated with them, and we think they should be included and recognised.