NFU Scotland is calling for abolition of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB) and for agricultural worker’s pay and conditions to be determined under general employment law.
In its submission to the Scottish Government’s review of the SAWB, the Union stated that it believes that legislation introduced during the years since the Board was established remove the need for specific arrangements for agricultural workers and therefore its continued existence.
Following consultation with members, NFU Scotland noted comments that having to comply both with UK employment legislation, as well as the Wages Order adds to red tape – especially for businesses that also employ non-agricultural workers.
Gemma Thomson, NFU Scotland’s Legal and Technical Policy Manager commented:
“When the SAWB was established there was no National Minimum Wage (NMW), no Working Time Directive and no Gangmaster Licensing Authority. Nor were there the quality assurance schemes that check farm standards – including compliance with employment legislation. There were other wages boards but all have been abolished other than the SAWB. The need for it has gone and it should be abolished.
“The existence of SAWB places Scotland at a serious competitive disadvantage following the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board in England. This is particularly keenly felt in the field vegetable and soft fruit industries, which employ substantial numbers of seasonal agricultural workers and which compete directly with farm businesses in England. They sell to retailers who make no allowance for the extra costs imposed on Scottish businesses.
“The decisions of the SAWB have had perverse impacts for workers too. Removal of age bands which exist in the NMW act as a disincentive to employing young workers. Young workers bring less experience, must be supervised more closely and in many cases cannot perform tasks that older workers can – yet the Wages Order requires that they should be paid the same.
“Similarly with the new National Minimum Living Wage proposals under which workers aged over 25 would receive £7.20 per hour, rising to £9 by 2020. This additional age-related banding of wages, if not replicated for Scottish agriculture, will increase the disincentive in Scotland to employ labour under the age of 25 and disadvantage those Scottish farm businesses that do employ younger workers.
“Seasonal harvest workers are disadvantaged too by SAWB rulings on overtime. In order to remain competitive employers have to restrict the number of hours each worker can harvest crops – when what the workers want to do is to maximise their earnings during the short harvest season.
“Our members are committed to paying fair wages, however what is keenly felt is the unfairness of having a parallel employment system with only applies to Scottish agriculture and puts their businesses at a serious competitive.”