The UK Supreme Court has decided the Welsh Assembly can establish a dedicated Welsh Agricultural Wages Board. (AWB) The decision is a blow to the UK government’s attempted impoverishment of farm workers but a significant success for the Labour led assembly.
The ruling leaves workers in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales covered by an AWB that has powers to raise wages and establish minimum terms and conditions for overtime, sick pay and training and skills. By only being covered by national minimum wage legislation then English farm workers are worse off than those in other parts of Britain after the UK government abolished the England and Wales AWB last year.
This caused the Welsh assembly to pass the agricultural sector (Wales) Bill giving Welsh ministers powers to establish their own board. Dominic Grieve, the attorney general, challenged the bill in the Supreme Court on the grounds that it referred to employment law that has not been devolved to the Welsh Government, which in turn argued the bill fell under agriculture, which is a devolved issue.
Five Supreme Court justices unanimously backed the Welsh Government. The result may prove constitutionally significant, as it is the second time the UK Government has unsuccessfully attempted to block legislation passed by the assembly.
The court appears to have extended the assembly’s powers over decisions in key areas of the economy. This pleases Labour’s Mick Antoniw who - with UNITE fully supporting him - led the AWB retention campaign and who said: “the UK Government has been told to let devolution work. Consequently, we can confidently explore using things like public procurement in our business contracts to promote the living wage and improve conditions.” He criticised the large legal fees wasted on the ill-conceived challenge.
Antoniw was always confident of victory and now visualises an improved Welsh AWB being established that, “can extend its vital remit on protecting wages and conditions for 13,000 agricultural workers into developing a progressive training and education programme that encourages young people to seek careers in farming and land based industries. We need them for our future food production. The standards we create can also help towards ensuring a living wage in rural areas, where many workers are poorly paid.”
Antoniw wants to see the English AWB restored very quickly and he attacked the Tories for failing to protect English farm workers. Patriotism for Cameron clearly does not extend to ensuring English workers are properly rewarded for their efforts!
UNITE Wales regional secretary Andy Richards hailed the Supreme Court decision as “vindication for the close work undertaken by the Welsh Government with the trade unions. Cameron’s attack on our democracy has been rebuffed and we have strengthened protection for agricultural workers.”