Unite member lobby Somerton and Frome MP over Agricultural Wages Board

Tim Lezard

Agricultural Wages Board demoFarm workers and supporters campaigning to save the Agricultural Wages Board will today return to the Frome surgery of Liberal Democrat agriculture and food minister, David Heath.

The minister, MP for Somerton and Frome, dodged questions from Unite members when they protested outside his surgery last month.

They will again be asking Mr Heath why he has decided to abolish the AWB, despite signing an Early Day Motion (EDM) in 2000 in support of the AWB, which sets legal rates of pay and conditions for 150,000 agricultural workers. Abolition of the AWB will mean losses worth at least £25 million a year for farm workers.

The South West has 26,000 agricultural workers, with 1,000 working in Mr Heath’s constituency.

Farm worker Steve Leniec, who chairs Unite’s rural and agricultural committee, said Mr Heath should also come clean over coalition government plans to water down protection for gangworkers under the guise of ‘simplifying’ the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Steve Leniec said: “David Heath has recently called the AWB ‘a costly relic of a previous age’. That’s not what he was calling it in 2000. He has since claimed he made this commitment to the EDM before there was a national minimum wage. But the national minimum wage was in force months beforehand. And if he knew anything about the industry and its workers, he would be honest enough to admit that the AWB is about far more than a minimum wage.

“A clear majority of those responding to the government’s consultation in the autumn on the abolition of the AWB, including farmers and farm workers, disagree with him and the government. He’s not listening to the industry and he’s not listening to his constituents. We hope he’ll listen to us today.”

Unite members will be protesting from 10am outside the minister’s local surgery at Church Hill House, 17 Bath Street, Frome, BA11 1DN.


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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