Historic changes for agricultural workers
On 1 October 2013 the Agricultural Workers Board (AWB) was abolished and superseded by ordinary employment legislation. Since 1948 the AWB governed minimum wages and other terms and conditions for agricultural workers in England and Wales. To some extent these terms and conditions were more generous than those found in other industries. From 1 October agricultural workers starting new jobs will be treated the same as other workers.
The abolition means that employers will now have to be more actively engaged in agreeing contracts of employment and matters like pay, holiday entitlement and sick pay
For those employed before 1 October 2013, nothing will change and they will continue on the AWB terms and conditions. However, the employer can try to renegotiate these existing terms. Employers should not fundamentally change a contract without the consent of the worker – if they do, they could face a claim in the Employment Tribunal. So changes to pay and hours of work for example, which are core to an employment contract, must only take place with the consent of the worker.
For new workers, employed after 1 October 2013, employers can provide their own contracts of employment with terms that are different to the AWB terms. However, the terms will have to comply with, for example, the National Minimum Wage legislation and the Working Time Regulations.
Employers may choose to leave existing contracts as they are, to avoid the upheaval and possible bad feeling that would follow if they tried to cut pay and increase hours for example. One option is to provide new workers with the same terms as the existing workers to avoid a two-tier system.
On the other hand, an employer may choose to grasp the nettle and attempt to change the existing terms so that they are in line with the less favourable contracts given to new workers. An employer will have to adopt a fair and reasonable procedure and will have to consult with the affected workers. Whether the benefit outweighs the time, stress and the effect on relationships will be a matter for each employer. In addition, there is the risk of claims in the Employment Tribunal if negotiations do not go well.
By way of example, under the old AWB if a worker worked over 39 hours a week they would receive overtime rates higher than the normal rate. New starters after 1 October 2013 will not be entitled automatically to overtime rates unless it is in their contract.
Employers will have to ensure that new workers are paid over the National Minimum Wage which is reviewed every October – many existing workers are already paid over the NMW but employers will need to actively review pay every year to ensure that remains the case.
So agricultural employers will have to get to grips with fast-moving employment law and will have to be more active when recruiting new workers and reviewing existing workers’ terms. In return employers will enjoy the flexibility which has been long available to other industries