National Minimum Wage – DEFRA announces abolition of Agricultural Wages Board for England and WalesMonday, July 26th, 2010
On 22 July, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced reforms to 30 of its public delivery bodies. Included in the reforms is the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales.
There are currently three Agricultural Wages Boards; for England and Wales, for Scotland and for Northern Ireland. They are the only three Boards remaining out of the more than 66 Wages Councils that once represented workers in a multitude of industry sectors, including cutlery; paper box; hair, bass and fibre; brush and broom; boot and floor polish; pin, hook and eye and snap fastener; keg and drum; sugar confectionery and food preserving; and coffin furniture and cerement-making. The government of the time thought that the existence of wages councils impeded rather than improved the lot of lower-paid workers so, in 1986, their powers were reduced and, in 1993, they were abolished altogether – except for the remaining three.
The abolition of the Wages Board will bring agricultural workers fully into the scope of the National Minimum Wage legislation. The Government has to consult with the Welsh Assembly Government to agree on the arrangements for abolition.
The NMW came into being in October 1999 and, while allowing the three Wages Boards to set their own pay rates, the legislation does not permit them to set rates of pay that are lower than the current statutory minimum rates. However, the Wages Boards, which comprise farmer representatives, union representatives and independent members, also decide on minimum benefits, including overtime rates, holidays, bereavement leave, sick pay and rest breaks – matters that are not within the jurisdiction of the NMW.