Farming lobby ‘race to bottom’ on rural employment rights slammed by Unite

Unite has today (Wednesday 5 August) slammed the National Farmers Union (NFU) of Scotland following their demands to the Scottish Government for the abolition of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB), sparking fears of a ‘race to the bottom’ on rural workers’ rights.

In its submission to the Scottish Government review of the SAWB the NFU argued that the existing UK employment rights framework provides sufficient protections for Scotland’s rural workers and called on Holyrood to follow the example of the previous UK Coalition Government by scrapping the board in Scotland.

The SAWB has established minimum levels for the wages, terms and conditions of agricultural workers since 1949 and its scope covers upwards of 20,000 agricultural- related jobs across the country.

However, a periodic review set by Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead MSP has resurrected fears over the board’s future and the potential impact of downgrading or abolishing a model of best practice for rural employment relations.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said, “It is regrettable but not at all surprising to hear the NFU call for the abolition of the SAWB but what is really concerning is that they are effectively advocating a race to the bottom on rural workers’ rights.

“The NFU argument is that the earlier abolition of the AWB in England and the parameters set by existing minimum rights on wages, working time and occupational safety justify the abolition of the SAWB.

“The reality is that reliance on minimums will mean pay cuts and freezes and an increase in working hours in what is a particularly dangerous industry – this has been our experience of the abolition of the AWB in England.

“The need for bargaining forums such as the SAWB to determine wages across agriculture is recognised in international laws and conventions and instead of seeking to abolish the SAWB its remit and scope should be strengthened.

“A cuts agenda across the agricultural sector would also be contrary to the memorandum of understanding agreed by Nicola Sturgeon and the STUC in supporting the economy and tackling inequality, never mind the Scottish Government’s own anti-austerity ambitions.”

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