UFU refute Unite claims in agri-wage paper

Friday, 30 July, 2021

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) have responded with anger and bewilderment at the claims in Unite’s paper ‘Stormont Hands off our Farm Workers – Defend and Expand the Agriculture Wages Board (AWB)’.

UFU-lead AWB representative Robert McCloy said, “Unite cite a number of inaccuracies in the paper which skew the debate on the abolition of the AWB and they must be withdrawn immediately. Most notably, the misleading tone of the paper is an attempt to discredit farmers in the eyes of the public and the fact that it’s introduction incorrectly states that the UFU colluded with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots because he is a member of the UFU, which he is not.

“Unite claim that we ‘don’t seem to care that abolishing the AWB threatens to remove protections for many small farmers and their family members who are forced by economic necessity, to work on other farms or elsewhere in the industry’. Yet on the AWB, the Unite representatives all hail from the agri-processing sector. Therefore, to make a statement such as this, illustrates a real lack of understanding regarding how our members rely on and utilise labour on farms.

“The biggest issue is that Unite are questioning the integrity and thereby the reputation of our members who employ labour when they say that by abolishing the AWB, this will leave farm workers at the mercy of ‘unscrupulous employers,’” said Mr McCloy.

Unite continue with the preposterous and false claim that the abolition of the AWB will give rise to criminal practices including people trafficking and modern slavery.

“Once the AWB is abolished, workers will be protected under the National Minimum Wage Regulation, as is every other sector in the local economy. DAERA has a separate sponsorship branch for the Gangmaster and Labour Authority (GLAA) in Northern Ireland and in terms of enforcement, the GLAA has two Enforcement Officers based here in Northern Ireland. The AWB does not rule on gangmasters nor allegations of slavery, but the GLAA has far reaching powers which will continue to protect such workers, all underpinned by the Department of Justice.

“Unite also allege that the UFU ‘champions the interests of big ranchers and the agri-food bosses’. We refute this openly as we represent the best interests of all sized farms in Northern Ireland. The comment is laughable when you consider our track record in challenging processors to pay the best price for our members, the primary producers,” said Mr McCloy.

The document states that the UFU has urged for the abolition of the AWB since 1909, which is not true nor possible because it was only established in 1918. The paper also fails to mention that the UFU were instrumental in setting the actual order in 1977 when the Union deemed that it was necessary.

“In conclusion, the language and the tone of this paper has damaged relations between the UFU and Unite. We will continue to call for the abolition of the outdated AWB and would urge MLAs to consider the facts rather than the inaccurate statements littered throughout the Unite paper,” said Mr McCloy.