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Sinn Féin call on Minister to retain Agricultural Wages Board

8 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Agriculture Spokesperson, Fermanagh South Tyrone MLA Gerry McHugh has called on the Minister Michelle Gildernew to protect the rights of the lowest paid farm workers by retaining the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).

Mr McHugh said:

"The abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board would directly impact on the pay of the lowest paid farm workers, including many migrant workers.

"The argument about reducing red tape does not stand up to scrutiny. Scraping the AWB has nothing to do with bureaucracy or red tape, but is a blatant attempt to cut the wages of farm workers in the North. It is a demand being led by the employers.

"The abolition of the AWB would mean that agriculture workers could face an 18p an hour cut in their wages.

"Having examined in greater detail the Board's role, remit, and functions, it is a role that Sinn Féin believes is required. The AWB has also set up a new working group to examine issues of the exploitation of migrant workers, particularly one of the key issues which is the issue of excessive rents for overcrowded accommodation.

"I challenge those who want to abolish the Board to defend the impact that this would have on some of the most vulnerable workers anywhere in Ireland. It cost £5,000 for the year 2005-06 and this is a small amount to pay for the protection of workers' rights.

"I would encourage the Minister to put the rights of the low paid before the demands of a few politicians who earn some £40,000 a year. The abolition of the AWB is not about inconvenience or bureaucracy; it is about dismantling protection and basic standards for all farmers and agricultural workers.

"Sinn Féin will always be foremost in respecting and defending the rights of workers, it is up to others to defend any attempt to deny farm workers these protections." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Agricultural Wages Board sets a minimum wage rate for agricultural employees over a range of grades. It also sets holiday pay and entitlement, sick pay, and the maximum charge that an employer may make for accommodation provided to employees. It comprises 15 members: six are nominated by the Ulster Farmers' Union, representing employers; six are nominated by the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union, representing employees; and three are independent members.

The board has no staff, and does not expend a budget. Board members do not receive a salary, but receive attendance fees and travel expenses amounting to less than £5,000 for the year 2005-06.

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