Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Crime does pay when you exploit farmworkers

Never believe the saying that crime does not pay when it comes to exploiting farmworkers.

How else can you explain that someone can earn £700,000 from criminal activity and not only remain at liberty but also be ordered to pay less than 10% of the total sum back? 

Then there is the fact that the criminal is currently earning £5,000 a month working abroad plus the NFU support for its members who used the crooked gangmasters services. 

Christopher John Blakeney systematically exploited around 60 Filipino herdsmen. He illegally supplied them to dairy farmers, including former NFU president Gwyn Jones. Jones was one of 15 farmers who earlier this year pleaded guilty to ‘using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster.’ Yet remarkably none were fined even after the judge in the case told the farmers, “What you did by engaging these people enabled their exploitation by others.”

Yet rather than breathe a sign of relief that his members had not faced the full wrath of the law the NFU President Peter Kendall had the audacity to criticise the Gangmasters' Licensing Authority (GLA) for bringing the case to court by saying, “considering the £100,000 legal costs to the taxpayer it’s difficult to see how the public interest has been served.”

Blakeney ignored GLA advice and warnings by supplying the workers illegally for more than three years. He withheld workers’ first two months half-salary, deducted administration and accommodation fees and paid workers under the minimum wage. Any complaints were ignored. In court it was agreed he had made a net profit of £700,000 of which only £12,801 remained in his bank accounts. The crook is now earning £5,000 a month working in Jordan. He was handed 12-months imprisonment suspended for two years for four counts of acting as an unlicensed gangmaster.

Under the Proceeds of Crime Act a confiscation order for £12,801 was issued. Blakeney has also been ordered to pay compensation to the workers of £45,000 over the next three years. That’s right, make £700,000, pay back £57,801 and stay out of prison! Little wonder that the GLA Chief Executive Paul Broadbent remarked afterwards, “In this case I honestly do not believe the punishment fits the crime.”

Broadbent can take heart by knowing the GLA’s work on a highly complex case has raised the diary migrant workers wages to the legal national minimum wage and they now earn as much as £400 to £600 more a month. Other workers in similar situations will also feel more confident about coming forward. 

Yet despite this - and many other successes - the GLA appears to have few friends in government. Unite fought a vigorous campaign to have it established in 2005 and along with the TUC is opposed to recent cuts in the GLA’s powers to regulate the forestry sector, shellfish industry, land agents and cleaning contractors operating in the food processing industry.

“During a recession people are desperate for work and at greater risk of exploitation from employers – making it even tougher for legitimate employers to survive. The government should respect and protect the law abiding, not make it easier for those who seek to operate outwith the law to do so,’ said Julia Long, the Unite national officer for rural workers. 

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