HC Deb 06 February 1986 vol 91 cc423-4
7. Mr. Ray Powell

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what is the average weekly wage for employed farm workers in England and Wales.

Mrs. Fenner

My Department's most recent wages and employment inquiry shows that for the year ending September 1985 the average gross weekly earnings for all whole-time regular hired men aged 20 and over was £129.92.

Mr. Powell

That is £38.70 less than that of the average industrial worker. Is the Minister prepared to agree that the modest request for a basic wage of £140 for an agricultural worker is £24.40 less than that for an average industrial worker? Why are the Government not considering that matter and taking the appropriate action?

Mrs. Fenner

Statutory minimum rates are a matter for the independent Agricultural Wages Board, not Ministers. About 86 per cent. of full-time adult male workers earn more than the statutory minimum for the hours worked. It is difficult to make comparisons on the basis that the hon. Gentleman tried, because almost half the whole-time adult male agricultural labour force pay little or no rent for their accommodation.

Sir Paul Hawkins

Will my hon. Friend please consider the case of single workers on small farms, and the fact that they must accept the basic minimum wage, although I know that in my district the wages are far higher? She must bear that fact in mind.

Mrs. Fenner

I must again make the point that the independent Agricultural Wages Board fixes the minimum rate. The board has employer and employee representatives. They take a balance of the argument.

Miss Maynard

Is the Minister aware that the gap, currently £38.70, between the average weekly earnings of farm and industrial workers is becoming wider all the time, and that farm workers comprise the biggest group of workers drawing family income supplement because of their low earnings? At the same time, some company directors are paying themselves salaries of £90,000, £100,000 and, in some cases, £125,000 a year. In view of the farm workers' production record, when will the Government honour their pledge that those who increase production are entitled to a real wage and not peanuts?

Mrs. Fenner

I readily acknowledge the notable contribution of farm workers to agriculture's good productivity record, but reward for improved productivity is a matter to be negotiated between the employer and the employee. Many of them do this.

Mr. Couchman

Does my hon. Friend agree that the massive pay claim submitted today by the farm workers' union, if conceded, would have a grossly inflationary effect and would therefore affect the weekly bills of everybody?

Mrs. Fenner

I am aware that negotiations on this claim are due to start soon, but it is not for Ministers to try to influence those negotiations, because there is an independent Agricultural Wages Board.

Mr. John

Have the Government a secret pay norm which they want to impose on the farm pay negotiations? If so, rather than take it out on the chairman of this supposedly independent body, as they did by sacking Professor Dickson on the last occasion, when he made a higher than desired increase, why do they not make it public? After all, any personal and confidential letter will do.

Mrs. Fenner

I reiterate, the Agricultural Wages Board is an independent body.