NFU Scotland has warned a decision by the Scottish Government to retain the Agricultural Wages Board without making any changes to it risks forcing crop production out of Scotland.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead announced on Tuesday the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board would ‘continue to protect the rights of low paid farm workers in Scotland’.
The decision followed a review and public consultation on the future of the body, which has the power to set minimum pay rates, holiday entitlement and certain other conditions of service for agricultural workers in Scotland. Orders made by the Board have the force of law.
The Scottish Government published analysis it said showed evidence scrapping the Board would drive down wages, particularly for young apprentices and migrant workers.
The analysis also found no evidence abolishing the board would help create more jobs in farming.
It said agricultural job growth in Scotland has actually outpaced that of England since the wages board there was abolished in 2013, which the Scottish Government said resulted in a fall in wages for the lowest-paid agricultural workers.
Mr Lochhead said he had ‘considered carefully’ the results of the review and responses to the consultation, in which a variety of views were expressed.
“Workers must be paid a fair wage for the job that they do. As well as being the right thing to do it is important in attracting people into the industry – which is vital for the future of Scottish agriculture,” he said.
“The evidence in favour of retaining the Scottish Agriculture Wages Board is compelling. It continues to perform an important role in protecting the rights of farm workers - many of whom are paid low wages – which in turn underpins the rural economy.
“That is why I have decided to retain the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, with the intention of conducting a further review in five years’ time.”
But NFUS chief executive Scott Walker said: “the Scottish Government’s decision to retain the agricultural Wages Board without any change to it functions or remit risks crop production moving out of Scotland
“For Labour intensive crops such as hand-picked fruit and vegetables this decision will have a huge impact on an industry that operates in a very competitive environment.
“With a National Minimum Wage, a new National Living Wage and rules governing working time why the Scottish Government has decided to retain the Board when we have all these other rules in place simply cannot be understood by growers.
“Retailers and consumers simply won’t pay for these additional costs and instead of creating jobs the risk is that there will be fewer farms and fewer farm workers in Scotland in the years to come.”