UK: Supreme Court decision in favour of Welsh agricultural wages panel welcomed by union
A decision by the UK Supreme Court to uphold a move by the Welsh Government to set up its own version of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) has been welcomed by union leaders.
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.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have retained their own boards, which means that England is the only country in the UK without one. The Coalition Government controversially decided to abolish the 60-year-old body last year, and Unite is campaigning for it to be re-established.
Unite regional secretary for Wales Andy Richards said: “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.
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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.
Unite national officer for agricultural workers Julia Long said: “This is wonderful news for thousands of low paid agricultural and rural workers in Wales.
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“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.”
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.