Gildernew committed to protecting the Rights of Agricultural Workers
Retention of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) is key to protecting the rights of agricultural workers in the North. That was the main message from Sinn Féin Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA to assembly members today.
The Minister said, in a response to an Oral question from David Ford, MLA:
"I have reflected on the concerns of members and the outcome of the debate on the future of the AWB on 22 October, and having considered the case for abolition. I remain of the view that the board should not be abolished.
"Abolition of the board would place agricultural workers here at a disadvantage when compared with workers elsewhere on these islands.
"I do not believe that it is in the interests of the agricultural industry to allow the North to become, as suggested by the ATGWU, the 'sweatshop' for agricultural workers on these islands.
"I reject the call to abolish the board. I am not prepared to sacrifice the rights of low paid workers or the protection of migrants because of the lobbying of employers or because of the partisan position of assembly members in this chamber. I stand by my decision."
The earlier debate on the future of the AWB had provided the Minister with an opportunity to explain her decision to retain the board. The Minister explained that contrary to the criticism from some quarters that this merely retains a layer of unnecessary bureaucracy, it in fact protects the rights of agricultural workers. The AWB protects its workers with wages greater than the National Minimum Wage and also ensures the rights of migrant and minority workers here. The minister stated that she was not prepared to put agricultural workers in the North at any further disadvantage to others elsewhere by abolishing the only mechanism that currently exists to protect their rights.
Concerning bureaucracy, the minister reiterated her commitment to a 25% reduction in red tape by 2013, emphasising that this would not be at the expense of vulnerable workers' rights.
NOTES TO EDITORS:
ATGWU - Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union.
The aforementioned debate took place at Parliament Buildings. It was a No Day Named Motion on the subject of the retention of the Agricultural Wages Board.
Today's Oral Question was from Mr David Ford, MLA - "To ask the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to detail her proposals in relation to the implementation of the Assembly's resolution on the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board."