NI farmers back call to abolish Agricultural Wages Board

NI agriculture is the only sector to remain under a separate wages board
NI agriculture is the only sector to remain under a separate wages board

Farming groups in Northern Ireland have backed the recommendation that the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) should be abolished.

A public consultation was launched earlier this year on proposals to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board in Northern Ireland.

Farming minister Edwin Poots announced the plans, saying there was 'little justification' for the industry to have 'special considerations of a wage board'.

The AWB, established 80 years ago, sets minimum rates of pay and conditions for farm workers.

However, various pieces of legislation have been introduced that 'greatly improved' the level of protection afforded to workers, Mr Poots said.

The Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) welcomed the consultation's recommendation, calling the AWB 'outdated' and 'coming from an era when trade boards were common'.

The union's AWB representative Robert McCloy said: “It has been superseded by two lots of legislation; National Minimum Wage (NMW) and the National Living Wage (NLW), making the grading structure that underpins the AWB totally irrelevant.

"As a result, the pay of agri workers is no longer calculated by experience and levels of responsibility,” he said, adding that scrapping the AWB would create a 'simpler and clearer process' for both employers and employees.

NI agriculture is the only sector to remain under a separate wages board, and its abolition would put farming on the same footing as employers and workers in all other sectors of the economy.

The UFU said the AWB was formed in an era when other legislation was non-existent and at a time when workers lacked knowledge of their rights and what others in the industry were paid.

However, this changed to their advantage in the last decade due to the power of technology such as the internet and resulting social media platforms, it added.

Mr McCloy said: “Our farm businesses rely on skilled and competent staff and our members pay a rate that reflects the contribution staff make to a successful business that is competitive with other sectors of the economy.

"The rapidly changing labour market together with national labour legislation means that the AWB legislation can be abolished without undermining the protection our employees rightly expect."