Thursday, 18 July 2013

How low can NFU get?

It appears the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) will attempt to justify almost anything these days that boost the profits of its members.  

Not willing to pay workers a decent wage that includes sick pay, guaranteed hours and holidays, the NFU has helped abolish the Agricultural Wages Board. The ‘union’ has also thrown its considerable weight behind plans to slash HSE inspections. That’s despite agriculture remaining easily the most dangerous occupation today, with a number of NFU member’s – and their children – included on the list of those slaughtered. 

Now the NFU president Peter Kendall has attacked the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) in a case which has led to many diary migrant workers now earning the legal minimum wage by having their wages raised by as much as £400 to £600 a month. 

Kendall was upset after a three-year GLA investigation into the use of Filipino herdsmen on farms ended with an absolute discharge and £300 costs for 15 prominent UK diary farmers, including Gwyn Jones, a former NFU president from West Sussex. All had admitted to being guilty of ‘using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster.’ 

Christopher Blakeney - and his company Marden Management - who was convicted of trading as an unlicensed gangmaster last November, had supplied labour to the farmers. He will be sentenced on August 9. 

Kendall attacked the GLA’s £100,000 legal costs saying: “considering the cost to the taxpayer it’s difficult to see how the public interest has been served.” 

That was not however how the views of Judge Cooper in the case who said he was satisfied the prosecutions had been “properly brought by the GLA”, and he told the farmers: “What you did by engaging these people enabled their exploitation by others.” Cooper said he was not fining the farmers because they had “had these matters hanging over you for a long period of time.” Some Landworker readers may think that’s a pretty lucky way to escape having to shell out for breaking the law.

GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent was perhaps understandably “disappointed” at this failure to punish the farmers. He said: “ The whole case was by far the most serious example we have tackled exclusively in terms of the intentional, well-organised and systematic exploitation of workers, but the punishment does not reflect that. 

I remain convinced they were part of an exploitative enterprise, benefiting from well-qualified labour provided at a price that was ‘too good to be true.’

Marden was not licensed and could only supply labour at such an attractively low rate because it was operating illegally. A two-minute call to the GLA, or check the public register on the website, would have answered any questions and prevented these people breaking the law.

Our actions mean many diary workers are now earning between £400 and £600 a month more.” That’s surely worth a celebratory pint!  

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