Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
Agriculture is an essential part of our economy. Land used for agricultural purposes accounts for around 84% of the total land area and the industry is worth over £150 million to the overall Welsh economy. Under the Tackling Poverty agenda, the Welsh Government is committed to supporting rural communities and ensuring that workers in the agricultural sector receive fair pay which reflects the importance of their contribution to our overall economy together with the experience and skills they possess.
The Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014 maintains a statutory system that recognises the unique nature of agricultural work through agriculture related benefits and allowances. By preserving the provisions of the Agricultural Wages Order 2012, the Act also maintained the established six grade career progression matrix for people employed in the sector. The Act underpins the Welsh Government’s vision of a modern, professional and profitable agriculture industry in Wales, assisted in no small part by having a well-motivated, well-trained and appropriately remunerated workforce.
The Act provides for the establishment of an Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales that will fulfil the key function of reviewing wages and other terms and conditions of employment in the agricultural sector. I launched a 12 week public consultation on proposals for the constitution and functions of the Panel on 27 March 2015 and the responses to that consultation will assist the Welsh Government in creating such an independent body.
The Agricultural Wages Order 2012 has not been reviewed since it was made. As a result, the industry still operates under terms and conditions set by the now abolished Agricultural Wages Board. I now have a choice of either waiting until the Panel is established and leaving it to carry out the next review of agricultural terms and conditions in Wales, or I can introduce an agricultural wages order of my own initiative in advance of that.
Today, I am launching a 12 week consultation on these two options. Option 1 would effectively see the Welsh Government doing nothing until the Panel has been established
with the result that Wales’ agricultural workers will continue to be governed by wage rates set in 2012. Option 2 discusses the proposals for the introduction, in the interim, of an agricultural wages order, considering the adjustment of wages for the standard six grades of workers, flexible workers, apprentices and young workers under the age of 16. Option 2 also proposes that an interim agricultural wages order should preserve the existing system of allowances and benefits to ensure minimal disruption to the functioning of the industry. I believe there is a need to address the disparities in the remuneration of agricultural workers and align wages with current economic factors. Based on all of the above but subject to the outcome of the consultation exercise, my current preferred option would be to introduce an interim agricultural wages order, as permitted by the Act. Any interim agricultural wages order would remain in force until the Panel is convened and able to propose their own agricultural wages order.
This consultation offers an opportunity for all to put forward their ideas as to whether an interim agricultural wages order should be made and, if so, what provisions it should make. I will consider carefully all suggestions and I welcome alternative proposals.
The responses to this consultation will assist me in taking a decision whether to introduce an interim agricultural wages order, and if so, to finalise its provisions. I would encourage you to consider this consultation and send your response by 3 August. I look forward to receiving your views and comments.
The consultation will be open between 11 May and 3 August 2015.