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Thousands of agricultural workers face new pay and conditions

Changes are afoot for around 120,000 agricultural and horticultural workers in England following the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) in June. The AWB was set up in the post-war years to set pay and conditions, such as minimum wages, holiday leave and sick pay, for workers in agriculture, horticulture and other rural industries.

The pay and conditions it last set remained in place until the end of September, but from the 1 October 2013 newly recruited agricultural workers will be covered by national statutory employment regulations, including the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

In most instances, the AWB pay levels are broadly in line with the NMW, if a little higher, though analysts have pointed out that many employers in the sector pay above minimum rates anyway, Other changes include: the removal of the obligation on farmers to pay higher rates for overtime or night work; a reduction in the minimum rate for holiday leave from 31 to 28 days; and a reduction in sick pay.

Agricultural workers whose existing contracts reflect the terms set by the AWB should continue to enjoy those terms until their contracts run their course or are varied by mutual agreement. It is a breach of contract for employers to make unilateral changes to terms of employment.

Any complaints from workers about non-compliance with conditions set by AWB will continue to be enforced by Defra for up to six years after the breach occurred. For free and impartial advice and guidance on workplace rights, workers and employers can contact Acas experts at the Acas Helpline on 0300 123 1100.

In Wales, agricultural wages are being held until 5 December, when the Supreme Court decides whether the Welsh Assembly has powers to take over the role of the AWB as it intends.

Acas can keep you up to speed on your obligations surrounding the National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage. Acas can also help your organisation find practical solutions to issues related to pay and conditions, including how to go about varying Contracts and terms and conditions. Visit Pay and reward: how Acas can help and the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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