The following letter appears in this weekend’s edition of the ‘Irish Farmers’ Journal’:
One hundred and thirty years ago the Land League spoke for farmers, presenting demands for three ‘fs’ – Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure and Free Sale and its long term impact was to change the face of Ireland. The Land League, while having many faults, demonstrated the power of ordinary people to change the situation in which they were living.
In 2012, there are two ‘fs’ which could make a huge difference to farming communities.
The first ‘f’ is fair pay. What would fair pay mean in our farming community? Wouldn’t it mean that people at least received the minimum wage for their work? If someone is guaranteed at least €8.65 an hour as an employee, shouldn’t people who farm also reasonably expect that they might earn €8.65 an hour? It doesn’t sound very much, but if one assumed that farming meant a working week of 48 hours (though many people work far more), then €8.65 an hour would be the equivalent of €415 a week or €21,590 a year for a working farmer.
A guaranteed income of €21,590 would be less than the Teagasc figure for average farm income in 2011 which at €24,861 was the highest ever, but much higher than the 2010 average of €18,789—and those were average figures, not guaranteed minimum figures.
When it comes to the government administering the single farm payment, should it not ensure that full time farmers receive at least the minimum wage? How much different life might be for many members of our communities if they were guaranteed a level of income most working people would take for granted? Wouldn’t that be the fair thing to do?
The second ‘f’ is fair trade. Many of us will have met the idea of fair trade. Tea, coffee, fruit, many other items: the fairtrade mark on them shows that the farmers receive fair prices, have decent working conditions, and are allowed to farm in sustainable ways. If the fair trade principles that have done so much to improve the lives of farmers overseas are the right way and the just way for the farmers in poor countries, then shouldn’t they also apply to farmers here in
Ireland? If the campaign to get fair terms for farmers in the developing world could be so successful, would not a campaign here in Ireland work as well? If there can be a fairtrade mark to encourage us to buy tea, coffee and fruit in the knowledge that the farmers have received a fair reward, could there not also be a fairtrade mark here? Couldn’t we have Irish produce that is marked in a way that shows that the producers have received a fair price for their work? If we had fair trade in our own country, many of the current problems and fears about the future would disappear.
Fair pay and fair trade are not unachievable dreams. Fair pay can be achieved through the administration of the Single Farm Payment in a way that focuses upon working farmers. Fair trade can be achieved through educating people about the realities of the current situation and asking them to change things.