However, the coalition government have abolished the legislation that provides for such benefits (Agricultural Wages Order) to allow for the simplification of employment practices and to remove unnecessary regulatory burden.
The abolition of the AWO provides employers with more freedom to decide what terms to offer potential new employees as there will no longer be the need to include certain mandatory provisions in their contract.
In certain circumstances it may also mean that an employee is no longer entitled to the same level of salary as they were previously able to obtain through the AWO. For instance an employee who is classed as a Grade 2 agricultural worker was previously entitled to an hourly rate of £6.96. Since the removal of the AWO, the same employee could only be paid the current national minimum wage of £6.31.
After 1 October 2013, most existing agricultural workers have had the right to continue to receive the generous pay, holiday entitlement, sick pay and others terms which were allowed by the AWO. But whether or not this is the case with your workforce depends largely on your contracts of employment.
Agricultural workers taken on after 1 October 2013 can be employed on less generous terms than those set out in the AWO. This can lead to substantial savings on basic pay, overtime pay, holidays and sick pay.
New starters will only be subject to the usual requirements of the national minimum wage (currently £6.31 per hour for those aged 21 and over); a minimum of 28 days holidays per year for full-time employees (which can include bank holidays); and statutory sick pay.
Employers should bear in mind that under employment law, imposed changes to terms and conditions could give rise to claims for, amongst other things, breach of contract, unlawful deductions from wages and constructive unfair dismissal.
Consideration should also be given to the equal pay legislation and that if an employer decides to employ new staff on different terms after the abolition of the AWO, then it is important that they are able to have justifiable reasons for doing so.
If you are an agricultural employer or employee, please do not hesitate to contact our Alexandra Dean, Partner in charge of our Employment Department who will be able to advise you of the potential impact the changes may have. Alexandra can be contacted on 01245 493939.