UP to 260 agricultural workers in the Uttoxeter constituency are at risk of pay cuts if a regulatory body is scrapped, a political party has claimed.
The Labour Party said farming employees across the country would take home £260 million less over the next decade if the Government abolished the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).
But Loxley farmer David Brookes, chairman of the Uttoxeter, Burton and Abbots Bromley branch of the National Farmers Union (NFU), as well as county chairman, said the AWB was an ‘unnecessary, bureaucratic burden’ and a ‘hangover from the days when we didn’t have the Minimum Wage Act’.
Ministers have suggested scrapping the AWB as part their overhaul of employment law. The proposals were approved in a House of Lords vote last week.
The AWB regulates pay in the agricultural industry as well as setting other terms and conditions of employment.
Mary Creagh, Labour’s environment spokesman, said the AWB’s abolition would lead to ‘lower wages for farm workers and take £260 million out of village high streets over 10 years’.
The MP added: “David Cameron’s out-of-touch government has delivered a bitter blow to the rural economy and to thousands of low-paid farm workers who will be worried about their pay falling.”
But Mr Brookes, a former Conservative member of East Staffordshire Borough Council and Mayor of Uttoxeter, hit back: “It (the AWB) doesn’t add any value to agricultural wages.
“Agricultural wages are under-written by the minimum wage. It (the AWB) is just bureaucratic nonsense.
“It is a hangover from the past that is not necessary any more. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money.”
Mr Brookes claimed high-quality farm workers were able to command decent wages due to their specialist knowledge.
“Good farm workers are in demand,” he said. “It requires a great deal of skill to operate machinery and manage livestock on the modern farm.
“To attract people of this skill level, farmers have to pay appropriate remuneration. A good herdsman can command a significant salary.”