Last wages council sets minimum wage of over GBP 4.00 per hour

The Agricultural Wages Board, the UK's only remaining wages council, announced a new pay award in April 1997 which sets a minimum wage of over GBP 4.00.

A new pay award announced in April by the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for England and Wales after two days of talks, gives farm workers a minimum wage of GBP 4.12 per hour. The AWB is the only wages council - setting statutory minimum pay rates for a particular sector - left in the UK after the rest were abolished in 1993 (UK9703112F). When the Conservative Government was originally looking at abolishing the wages councils in 1986, the proposal was delayed because employers were not in favour of them being abolished, as they at least set some minimum floor of standards with which employers could work. The case for this was made most strongly by agricultural employers, and this was why the AWB was left in place after 1993.

The AWB's pay award of 3.75% means an increase of GBP 5.81 to bring the current basic minimum wage to GBP 160.85 for a 39-hour week. There will be pro rata increases for all other adult rates, and the increases will also apply to casual workers. This means that minimum wages will now range from that mentioned above to GBP 178.00 for crafts grades and GBP 209.32 for a grade one worker.

The new rates will come into force in June 1997 if they are formally ratified under the board's procedures in May. The award also includes several other significant concessions:

  • employers have agreed to the introduction of three days' paternity leave;
  • a working party set up last year to look at the possibility of setting up an industry pension scheme for employees will continue to look at the feasibility of doing so; and
  • another working party will look at the feasibility of introducing an "optimal annual hours" scheme into the agricultural wages order.

According to the National Farmers Union (NFU), farm incomes began to fall in 1996 after a period of recovery. The horticultural sector, which employs a substantial percentage of the agricultural workforce, has had it margins squeezed recently. Given these factors, the NFU chair said that the increase was a fair one in the circumstances, and that he was "particularly glad that the changes were agreed between the workers' and employers' sides". The overall cost to the industry is thought to be around GBP 60 million and the agreement is thought to cover in the region of 240,000 workers.

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