Monday, 11 February 2013

Gangmasters Licensing Authority continues to prove its worth

The government’s deregulatory charge that is rolling back many decades of bitterly won, intelligently constructed essential laws and regulations has – thankfully – not included scrapping the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.  (GLA)

The GLA survived last year’s Red Tape Challenge but has been asked by the government to look at reducing ‘burdens on compliant operators’ and removing from its scope, activities and sectors described as ‘low risk’ such as apprenticeships, forestry, cleaning contractors, land agents and voluntary workers. Labour is monitoring developments to help ensure the GLA’s effectiveness is maintained and Oxfam remains keen to extend the GLA remit into construction, care and hospitality sectors where the charity’s investigations have led them to declare the “situation is worse” than in areas covered by the GLA.

Following the Morecambe Bay tragedy in which 23 Chinese cockle pickers drowned on February 5 2004, the GLA was introduced by a Labour government, with strong cross-party support in 2006. Since when gangmasters – a generic term to cover any individual whose primary purpose is to organise the supply of labour to employers – have had to register with the GLA if their work is in the agricultural, horticultural, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packing industries.

The organisation had a number of successes last year. In May Peter Lackey, who had organised people harvesting shellfish in the Dee estuary was found guilty of acting as a gangmaster without a licence. He was fined £3,700 and electronically tagged. In June, Romanian Vitalie Cacicovschi was sentenced to 200 hours of unpaid work as a community payback order after he was found guilty of trading as an unlicensed gangmaster on the Isle of Skye.

In November the GLA successfully challenged a ‘pay by day’ scheme operated by FS Commercial Ltd (FSC) that was found to be contrary to PAYE and national insurance legislation. FSC were found to be failing to declare significant amounts of Employers’ national insurance contributions.  The fee charged to workers as part of the scheme was found to drop wages below the national minimum wage. FSC were not granted a licence to operate.

In the same month, Christopher Blakeney and Marden Management Ltd pleaded guilty to supplying workers to around 500 UK farms despite operating without a licence. The Guardian newspaper had reported in 2010 how Filipino workers had been charged significant sums by Blakeney when they found jobs in the UK through his Philippines recruitment agency. Workers reported excessive hours of work; few rest breaks and having little to eat.

Labour’s shadow minister for food and farming, Huw Iranca-Davies, MP for Ogmore, Wales welcomes “the removal of licenses and the prosecution of rogue gangmasters involved in criminal gangmasters, as well as the issuing of hundreds of warning notices to protect the most vulnerable workers.

It is good that the GLA survived but this is still a worrying time for the organisation and for anyone concerned with worker exploitation; no measures should hamper the effectiveness of the GLA in tacking worker exploitation.” 

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