Welsh government acts to safeguard farmworkers’ pay

Welsh ministers are set to debate an emergency bill to safeguard farmworkers’ pay and conditions following the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB).

The National Assembly of Wales has agreed to allow the Agricultural Sector (Bill) for Wales to be debated and voted on as a “matter of urgency”.

The bill is due to be passed in mid-July and it would preserve the status quo of the AWB, which was abolished in England and Wales by the UK government on 25 June.

Alun Davies, Wales’ minister for natural resources and food, said he was “disappointed” by the decision and warned that abolishing the board could “detrimentally affect 13,000 farm workers in Wales, many of whom are low paid.

“Time and time again people across Wales have made it clear they do not want to see the AWB abolished,” he added.

“The UK government has ignored the wishes of the Welsh government, the National Assembly and Welsh agriculture. This is completely unacceptable.”

The bill will seek to retain the current level of protection under the AWB for farmworkers’ pay and conditions in Wales.

It also makes provision to establish an Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales that would carry out functions related to the operation of the agricultural sector, including promoting careers and training.

Mr Davies said having a well-trained and experienced workforce, while encouraging new entrants to join, was essential for a “resilient and effective” farming industry.

The assembly will hold two debates on the bill during plenary sessions on 9 and 16 July. A vote is scheduled for 17 July that could see the bill passed into law.

The Welsh government opposed the abolition of the AWB, but the UK government said it was not a devolved matter because it dealt with employment law rather than agriculture.

DEFRA said abolishing the AWB would bring agriculture in line with other industries and would not result in lower wages as workers’ rights were already covered by the national minimal wage and working time regulations, which apply to all employment.

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