Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
Today, I signed the Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2016, the first wages Order made under the Agricultural Sector (Wales) Act 2014. The new Order, which introduces revised pay rates for all grades and categories of agricultural workers in Wales, will come into force on 26 February 2016.
At present, agricultural workers in Wales are subject to the minimum pay rates specified by the last Agricultural Wages Order issued by the now abolished Agricultural Wages Board in 2012, except for Grade 1 which is set at the current National Minimum Wage. Under the new Wages Order, workers will receive an average 6% pay increase based on the 2012 minimum pay rates. My intention is to ensure the proper and continued functioning of the Agricultural Minimum Wage regime and introduce minimal disruption to the sector. For this reason, the new Order will retain the grade structure provided in the 2012 Order.
The Agricultural Minimum Wage regime rewards skills, and links pay rates to qualifications through a six grade career structure. The 2016 Wages Order preserves this structure for standard and flexible workers to encourage up-skilling, career development and the further modernisation and professionalism of the agriculture industry in Wales. The 6% pay increase will apply to grades 2 to 6, young workers of compulsory school age, and apprentices. Since 2012, the hourly pay of Grade 1 workers has increased in line with increases in the National Minimum Wage, and now this Order will set the Grade 2p above the current National Minimum Wage at £6.72. Grade 1 is regarded as a transitional grade. The statutory provisions maintain rights for Grade 1 workers who have been employed continually for 30 weeks with the same employer to acquire qualifications that will allow them to move quickly to a higher grade.
The career structure, increased minimum pay rates for young workers and apprentices, and the provisions that support training paid by employers are designed to help combat skills shortages in the sector. Having a well-trained and well-motivated workforce is key to ensuring the long term viability and success of agriculture in Wales.
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. Our policy is different to the approach taken by the UK Government where the decision was taken to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales despite our views on the matter.
A recent ‘Farmers Guardian’ survey found that 70 % of respondents in England regret the dissolution of the Board there and that 30 % have seen their pay fall. In addition, 30 % of the respondents say that they are considering leaving the industry. The work we have been undertaking in preserving the Agricultural Minimum Wage regime in Wales and implementing the 2014 Act provides benefits for the whole sector and the rural economy more widely, and underpins the Welsh Government’s vision of a modern, professional and profitable agriculture industry in Wales.
The Agricultural Wages (Wales) Order 2016 is intended to be an interim measure and will remain in force until a new agricultural wages Order is made, based on the recommendations of the new, soon to be formed, Agricultural Advisory Panel for Wales. The Panel, once established, will play a fundamental role in supporting the functioning of industry by considering matters related to employment and also skills and career development. I expect that the Panel will be fully operational by spring 2016.
Ensuring fair wages for agricultural workers and supporting rural communities is vitally important in the context of the Welsh Government’s Tackling Poverty agenda. The implementation of the 2014 Act, which includes the introduction of a new Wages Order, supports the aspiration to improve the skills base of all people working in agriculture in line with the recommendations of the Professor Wynn Jones’ review of Learning Delivered by Further Education Colleges and the Relevance of that Delivery in Supporting Farm Businesses in Wales. Our work aims to ensure the long term viability and success of the agricultural sector in Wales, supporting the key goals of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, in achieving a prosperous, resilient and more equal Wales.