Growers scored a significant victory last week when they convinced the Agricultural Wages Board to back down on holiday pay hikes for workers.

The move left the Transport and General Workers Union furious and considering legal action after what it described as a farcical emergency session of the AWB.

The debate centred on a last-minute addition to this year's agricultural wages order that changed the way in which employers had to calculate holiday pay for workers.

A clause inserted into the order just before its confirmation based pay on workers earnings in the 12 weeks prior to going on leave.

Employers argued that workers would take their break immediately after the busy harvest season, when they put in longer hours and earned more, effectively raising holiday pay.

Richard Hirst, chairman of the NFU horticulture board, said it would inflate average wage costs by 3% for growers.

But on his own farm, where employees could work up to 90 hours a week during harvest, Hirst reckoned the new legislation would add as much as 10%. "The industry just can't afford that amount at present," he said.

Hirst hailed the development as a major victory for the NFU. "It would have discriminated between workers and between employers, made it difficult for employers to calculate what each of their workers is entitled to in holiday pay, and added significantly to wage costs," he said.

But the T&G says the AWB has reneged on an earlier decision and may have to defend itself in law.

Chris Kaufman, national secretary for agriculture at the T&G, said: "The decision to undervalue people is, in our view, wrong and must be challenged. We will get the legal advice necessary and call for the Board to implement the agreement it properly negotiated, consulted on and agreed."