Agricultural employers must pay their workers more if they want to end widespread labour shortages impacting harvest of fruit and vegetables across Northern Ireland

Sean McKeever, Unite Regional Officer

Unite submits response to DAERA consultation opposing proposed abolition of Agricultural Wages Board by DUP Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots seeks abolition of Agricultural Wages Board

Agricultural field and farm work is tough and exhausting – workers need to be properly rewarded for their labour

Commenting in the week when his union submitted a detailed response to the DAERA consultation opposing the proposed abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), Unite Regional Officer Sean McKeever challenged agricultural and horticultural employers to up their pay to overcome widespread labour shortages being reported at farms across Northern Ireland.

Agricultural field and farm workers perform a vital role in our economy. It is hard and exhausting work – with very long hours during the harvest period when every hour of light is important. Many of those who work on our fields and farms are migrant workers reliant on seasonal and casual work to get by.

“With Brexit, the free availability of such workers to employers in Northern Ireland has all but dried up. The result is reports of widespread labour shortages across the agri-food sector – this is affecting the harvest of fruit and vegetables. 

“Unfortunately, the situation is set to get even worse. As part of his agenda to enable a race-to-the-bottom in agri-food, DUP Agricultural Minister Edwin Poots is seeking to deliver the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board on behalf of the Ulster Farmers’ Union. The AWB is one of the only protections existing for field and farm workers providing a floor on pay, overtime and working conditions in the sector. In our detailed submission to DAERA against its abolition, Unite highlighted that the move will only give the green light to a wider onslaught on workers, especially younger workers in particular. 

“The AWB provides substantially higher pay for younger farm workers than minimum wage provisions; it also encourages upskilling through guaranteeing pay increments. In so doing, it plays a critical role in encouraging new entrants and upskilling in a sector desperate for younger workers. This is particularly important at a time of growing, widespread labour shortages post-Brexit.

“The reality is that if agri-food employers want to end labour shortages and entice more people to work for them on fields and farms, the solution is simple, they need to pay their employees more!”, Mr McKeever concluded.

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