DEFRA is today launching a consultation exercise on proposals to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales and the 15 agricultural wages committees and 16 agricultural dwelling house advisory committees in England. The removal of the agricultural wage regime imposed by the Agricultural Wages Board and the introduction of the national minimum wage in the agriculture sector will be an important step forward in achieving the Government’s objective of harmonising and simplifying employment law, and removing regulatory burdens from businesses. The abolition of these bodies will also contribute significantly to the Government’s programme of public body reform and support the Government’s growth agenda.
The Agricultural Wages Board and its related English committees are now outdated and obsolete bodies, dating back to the beginning of the last century. The existence of the Agricultural Wages Board adds administrative burdens to farm businesses, hampers the introduction of flexible modern working practices and causes confusion with the national minimum wage. Abolition of the board and the agricultural minimum wage will mean that there is a single employment regime across all sectors of the economy. It will make it easier for farmers to employ workers and will encourage growth and employment in the agricultural sector. Existing workers will retain contractual rights in place at the time of the abolition of the board and will have the same level of employment protection as workers in all other sectors of the economy. The majority of farm workers are already paid above the agricultural minimum wage and farmers will need to continue to offer competitive and rewarding packages to attract and retain workers with the right skills and qualifications.
With the challenges of feeding the rapidly growing world population, there are huge opportunities for British agriculture to prosper. The changes which we are proposing to introduce will free-up farmers from unnecessary administrative burdens, allowing them to invest in their businesses and support the economy. I am determined to ensure that those who work in farm businesses can share in that success with the benefit of modern contractual arrangements.
The functions of the agricultural wages committees are now largely redundant, and following changes to housing legislation in the 1980s the number of requests for advice from agricultural dwelling house advisory committees (ADHACs) has fallen significantly. The abolition of ADHACs will not remove statutory protection from tenants in tied accommodation, nor will it remove the ability of a farmer to apply to a local authority for a tenant to be re-housed where there is a need to provide accommodation for an incoming worker. In making a decision on a re-housing application, the local authority will still need into account whether it is in the interests of efficient agriculture to re-house the worker and the urgency of the application. Given their reduced and limited functions, it is difficult to justify the continued public resource in retaining these 31 regional committees.
The Government’s proposal to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board and the regional English agricultural wages committees and agricultural dwelling house advisory committees has been known for some time and stakeholders and interested parties have already been able to make their views known. However, they now have the opportunity to respond to the formal consultation exercise. An impact assessment and equality impact assessment on the abolition of the agricultural wages board are published as part of the consultation package. The consultation documents are available on the Gov.uk website