Farm workers stage Oxford conference demonstration

Farm workers who claim government policy is damaging their living standards have held a demonstration outside a conference in Oxfordshire.

The protest, at the Oxford Farming Conference, was led by the Unite union.

About 20 people gathered in Oxford's High Street ahead of a speech by Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Among their concerns is the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB), a panel which set pay in the industry.

'Sustained attack'

Plans to scrap the AWB were announced in December when farming minister David Heath branded it "outdated" and "bureaucratic".

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said it would lead to a more flexible market and make it easier for employees to receive annual salaries instead of hourly wages.

Unite national officer for agriculture Julia Long called the decision "shabby" and said agricultural workers were "very angry at what they see as a sustained attack on their living standards".

She said: "The announcement of the AWB's scrapping in England and Wales sneaked out just before Christmas [and] will hit the incomes of 140,000 agricultural workers, destroying a protection that they have enjoyed since the First World War."

Under the plans, agricultural workers would come under National Minimum Wage legislation.

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