Prince of Wales caught in the middle of agricultural wages row

 

The Prince of Wales is facing questions about his commitment to fighting rural poverty after a manager at his Duchy of Cornwall business empire backed reforms to reduce agricultural wages.

Trade union leaders have written to the prince calling on him to clarify his position on the Agricultural Wages Board, which is set to be abolished later this year in a move which opponents say will cost farm labourers more than £235m in lost income and entitlements over the next decade.

The views of the heir to the throne, whose own penchant for writing to ministers has previously seen him accused of meddling in government affairs, are being sought after the manager of Duchy of Cornwall Nursery called the AWB “archaic” and its overtime rates “ridiculous”.

The Duchy, a private estate whose profits fund the living expenses of the heir to the throne and his dependents, including the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, last year distributed a surplus of £18.3m to Prince Charles. It paid £3.6m in wages and staff costs to its 130 employees.

Angie Coombs, the general manager of the nursery, which employs 30 people and recently received a £1.3m facelift, responded to a consultation exercise by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by describing the AWB as “archaic and longer fit for purpose”.

Complaining that employee protection had improved considerably since the board was set up after the Second World War, Mrs Coombs wrote: “Why should agricultural workers be treated any differently and in some cases, [receive] superior benefits?” She added: “It’s a huge issue when agricultural (or in my case horticultural) businesses are required to operate under these regimes, which are costly. The overtime rates are ridiculous and, when running a seven-day-week business, make it impossible to budget sensibly.”

Under the current pay rates set by the AWB, the 140,000 farm workers in England and Wales receive an hourly rate ranging from £6.21 for the lowest grade to £8.70 for managers. Overtime rates range from £9.32 to £13.05. The national minimum wage currently stands at £6.19 per hour.

The Duchy, which directly employs 10 “estate workers” and 30 nursery staff, would be likely to see a significant fall in its wage bill if the plans go ahead to end the AWB.

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: “It’s deeply alarming that any part of the Duchy of Cornwall would play any part in driving down the pay of already low-paid agricultural workers.

“Prince Charles is a supporter of  the countryside so we would expect him to share our concerns about the Government’s attempt to allow big business a free hand over our rural future.”

In a statement, the Duchy said: “The response submitted by the Duchy Nursery represented its view as a commercial business in the field of horticulture, not the Duchy as a whole or The Prince of Wales.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral