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Tolpuddle unionist reveals farm workers have fight on their hands
A UNIONIST from Tolpuddle says farm workers have a new fight on their hands, nearly 180 years on from the village’s famous martyrs.
Tony Gould, a former union official with the Unite union and member of the Tolpuddle branch, has voiced his opposition to government plans to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) for England and Wales, which is responsible for setting wages in the industry.
He says the move, which will also see the 15 Agricultural Wages Committees and 16 Agricultural Dwelling House Advisory Committees scrapped, will lead to a gradual loss in pay for farm workers.
Mr Gould, 72, has written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and plans to also raise the issue with West Dorset MP and cabinet member Oliver Letwin.
The government announced plans to scrap the AWB last month, with farm workers coming under National Minimum Wage legislation by October this year.
Farming minister David Heath branded the current system ‘outdated and bureaucratic’.
Mr Gould said: “My concerns are that the provision for wages in the Agricultural Wages Board order have ensured that there were accepted rates of pay that allowed farm workers to have a reasonable rate of pay. Abolishing the Wages Board and replacing it with the minimum wage will cause wages to reduce.
“I’m not saying farm workers wages will reduce overnight once the Agricultural Wages Board is abolished, but over a period of time it will undoubtedly lead to lower wage because – whether they like it or not – farm workers are not in a strong bargaining position.”
The move to abolish the AWB, which is now being considered by Parliament, hit the headlines recently as Unite led a protest to highlight the issue at the Oxford Farming Conference.
Mr Gould said the Tolpuddle branch of the union plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting and come up with a plan of action.
The village was the scene of probably the most famous battle for agricultural workers rights back in the 1830s when six local farm labourers formed the first union to fight for their rights and were transported to Australia following a trial in Dorchester.