The Welsh government has reacted angrily to the axing of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) and hinted it may set up a Wales-only body to protect farmworkers’ pay.
The legislation to scrap the AWB was originally included in the Public Bodies Bill which meant Westminster had to take Wales’ view into account when deciding its future as agriculture is a devolved issue.
But by adding the legislation to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, DEFRA worked around this by arguing that employment was not a devolved issue.
A Welsh government spokesman said this decision undermined the consent procedures that had been carefully negotiated between the Cardiff and Westminster governments during the Public Bodies Bill’s passage through parliament.
“That this decision was taken on the last working day in the Lords before Christmas and without prior notification to the Welsh government seems to directly contradict the UK government’s stated adherence to a ‘respect agenda’ towards Wales,” said the spokesman.
Wales’ deputy farming minister, Alun Davies, said he was very disappointed at the tactics used by DEFRA in axing the board. Shadow DEFRA farm minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, described DEFRA’s move as “underhand” and accused ministers of “riding roughshod” over the views of the Welsh government.
And Mick Antoniw, the Pontypridd Labour Assembly Member, who has been vehemently opposed to the board’s abolition, added that it looked increasingly likely that Wales would go it alone by retaining a version of the AWB.
He also suggested that a new body could also be used to promote the agricultural industry in Wales.
But a DEFRA spokesman rebuffed the comments: “Abolishing the AWB will free numerous small-scale farmers from unnecessary burdens while keeping farmworkers, like all other workers across the economy, well protected.
“Employment law is not a devolved issue and discussions about the AWB are not the right forum to make changes to the devolution settlement.”
“We made it clear when we consulted that we were considering a range of legislative options to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board.”