The decision by the UK Supreme Court to uphold the move by the Welsh government to set up its own version of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) to protect the incomes of thousands of Welsh agricultural workers was applauded by Unite, the country’s largest union today (Wednesday 9 July).
The Supreme Court had been asked to rule by the attorney general Dominic Grieve on the legality of the assembly’s decision to pass a bill giving Welsh ministers the right to establish their own AWB, which may be called the Agricultural Advisory Panel. The attorney had argued that ‘employment’ issues were not a devolved matter.
Unite regional secretary for Wales Andy Richards said: “Today's decision reaffirms our position that the Welsh Government's Agricultural Sector (Wales) bill is definitely devolved legislation - it is good news for agricultural workers and good news for Wales as a whole.
“However, the fact that this bill was referred to the Supreme Court in the first place raises questions around Wales’ devolution settlement that need to be addressed in the interests of us all.
“We can now go forward to ensure our rural workers in Wales are supported and protected and that the agricultural sector has a sustainable future."
The assembly’s move had been welcomed by the Farmers’ Union of Wales and Wales Young Farmers as the most effective and fair way to regulate wages and conditions for the agricultural industry.
Last October, more than 60 years of pay protection for 140,000 agricultural workers in England and Wales ended - but the Welsh Assembly, acting in its devolved capacity, voted to give protection to workers in Wales.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained their own boards.
Unite national officer for agricultural workers Julia Long said: “This is wonderful news for thousands of low paid agricultural and rural workers in Wales.
“It demonstrates that the robust stand taken by the Welsh Government has triumphed - and it will give us extra impetus in our campaign to get the AWB for England restored as the impartial arbiter of agricultural workers’ pay.”
The AWB had set minimum pay and conditions for about 140,000 farm workers and provided a benchmark for thousands more, including estate workers and equestrian staff.
During the campaign to save the AWB, Unite argued that workers faced ‘a sea of uncertainty’ over their future housing arrangements and incomes, when ‘the harsh mechanics’ of the AWB’s axing kicked in; substituting the national minimum wage of £6.31 for higher rates of pay that existed in the sector for many decades.
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.