Minimum wage for farm workers to be abolished: Waldegrave to ignore report that finds no threat to jobs

MINISTERS are set to ignore an unpublished study commissioned by the Government and press ahead with the abolition of a minimum wage for farm workers.

Researchers working for the Ministry of Agriculture found that the lower limit on pay in the industry has not resulted in job losses and may even have increased employment marginally.

Ministers have cleared the way for repealing the last law which stipulates minimum wages in Britain by withdrawing their support for International Labour Organisation conventions which set lower limits for farm workers' pay.

Senior Conservatives have consistently argued against Labour Party plans to impose national minimum rates on the grounds that they would cost jobs.

The six academics at the London School of Economics said: 'Our main conclusion is that minimum wages in agriculture have not harmed the performance of the agricultural labour market. They have increased the wages of the low-paid workers with no obvious adverse effects on employment.'

It is understood that the new Minister of Agriculture, William Waldegrave, is unlikely to make an announcement until the autumn and may decide simply to limit the scope of the present Agricultural Wages Boards which cover 250,000 workers.

The study concluded that there might have been a 'weak positive impact' on employment.

Barry Leathwood, of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said he had not seen a copy of the report although the ministry said a copy had been sent to the union. The ministry denied suppressing the report and said its findings would almost certainly be published in economic journals.

Gillian Shephard, former Minister of Agriculture, announced the Government's withdrawal of support from the ILO conventions in a Commons written reply.

Labour's agriculture spokesman, Gavin Strang, said that it was an attack on some of the lowest paid workers in the country. The Agricultural Wages Boards set a minimum pounds 145.09 a week.