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Unite turns to courts to prevent rural poverty


Unite the union is seeking legal advice over a high court challenge to the government’s announcement of abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), which the union says will force thousands into poverty in rural areas.

The union believes that the government has failed to consider the impact of the changes on the rural community, which it is required to do under equality impact rules, and failed also to consult the Welsh Assembly adequately on legislative changes that will affect the people of that country.  As such, Unite believes the government’s plans are vulnerable to Judicial Review.

It is expected that the legislation paving the way for its abolition will be published this week. Unite says that the move is being rushed through without consultation in the face of deeply divided opinion in agriculture, and that it will have dire consequences for farm workers and the farming industry.

Ian Waddell, Unite’s national officer for rural and agricultural workers, said: “Since the government’s original announcement of abolition of the AWB in July, there has been no consultation whatsoever with farm workers, or with farmers. The Coalition government’s actions and the haste with which they are moving are therefore legally questionable. 

“Opinion is sharply divided over the consequences of abolition and appropriate, adequate consultation is a must in a critical industry which provides food for the UK’s population.

“The Coalition has completely failed to carry out impact assessments or to test the fairness of this measure, steps which were promised for all legislation.  This headlong rush to abolish the AWB is reckless folly and Unite will do all in its power to prevent this serious mistake being made.”

Unite leads for workers on the Agricultural Wages Board, speaking on behalf of all agricultural workers in England and Wales. The union is now seeking legal advice over a possible Judicial Review of the Coalition’s actions in order to force the government to undertake full consultation before launching legislation to abolish the AWB and its associated structures.

Ian Waddell continued: “We will apply to the courts to get abolition put on hold if the Coalition continues to ignore our calls for consultation. Without the statutory floor of protection which the AWB provides for workers, wages will be slashed and tens of thousands of rural families will be forced into poverty. Where is the fairness in that?”

The Coalition gave the Welsh administration one week to respond to the proposals.  Last week, the government named the AWB, which sets pay, terms and conditions for 154,000 farm workers, as one of the quangos to be abolished (announced on October 14th). 

Unite has pledged to build a cross-party coalition to defend the AWB which was established by Lloyd George during the first world war to protect wages in this low-paid sector. Winston Churchill was a strong defender of the AWB, and even Lady Thatcher’s government respected the need for it to continue.

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