Farmworkers get inflation-busting 4.5pc

By MICHAEL POLLITTRural affairs editorAn inflation-busting pay increase of 4.5pc for farmworkers has been given a cautious welcome by union leaders.

By MICHAEL POLLITT

Rural affairs editor

An inflation-busting pay increase of 4.5pc for farmworkers has been given a cautious welcome by union leaders.

The Agricultural Wages Board agreed a rise to take the basic minimum for most countryside workers to £6 an hour in the autumn - a long-term goal for the Transport & General Workers' Union.

While top rate for craft grades rises by more than inflation to £7.08 an hour from £6.77, the basic grade increases by just 3.2pc to £5.52 - in line with the higher National Minimum Wage.

Norfolk farmer Richard Hirst, chairman of the National Farmers' Union's horticultural board, said that the increase was not particularly good news. “One of the crucial rates, for grade I workers, has stayed at the same as the Minimum Wage rate. Any increase is disappointing.

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“The rate that people pay obviously varies but lots of people are paid more that the minimum. Farmers and growers tend to use that AWB rate as the baseline for increases.

“We are an industry accused of not paying people well enough in that sense but the statistics don't show that all. We're all going to have to work hard to recover that increase from our customers,” he added.

The basic entry or grade I rate remains pegged to the National Minimum Wage and will increase by 3.2pc to £5.52 but the union said they had won assurances that this will not be a permanent peg. All increases take effect on October 1.

Chris Kaufman, national secretary for agriculture of the T&G section of Unite, said some progress had been made towards the decent pay levels which were needed to ensure younger people, in particular, chose to stay in farming.

“We are reasonably satisfied with this outcome, which keeps pace with inflation, but will keep the pressure on to put farm and horticulture pay on to a new and higher level and end the low pay culture,” he said.

“We have also put some very clear markers down with the employers about how the industry deals with the problem of exploitation of migrant workers.”

A working party has been set up by the AWB to deal with the issue of exploitation of migrant workers through excessive charges levied for those in multi-occupancy accommodation. A separate working party will look at the union's demand for a farm workers' pension scheme.

The union made it clear to the employers that the industry must recognise the need for a fundamental pay overhaul in future. Citing independent figures which showed that labour costs in agriculture fell by 5pc last year as productivity rose and that labour now accounts for only 14pc of all costs, Mr Kaufman said the scope was there for movement.

Key pay rates -

Grade 1 £5.35 to £5.52; grade 2 £5.74 to £6; grade 3 £6.31 to £6.60; grade 4 £6.77 to £7.08; grade 6 £7.18 to £7.50; grade 6: &.75 to £8.10.

The proposals will be subject to a six-week consultation with a confirmation meeting on June 28. The new rates will take effect from October 1, 2007

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