GLAA marks 15 years of licensing
8th April 2021
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) has reaffirmed its commitment to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable workers in its regulated sector, 15 years on from when it first started to issue licences to gangmasters in the fresh produce industry.
Licensing by the then Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) began this week in April 2006, with the first licence issued the following month to a company supplying workers in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
While a lot has changed since then, including a rebranding of the GLA to GLAA with increased powers and remit covering the entire labour market of England and Wales, the determination of the authority to provide a level playing field for businesses in these sectors remains undiminished.
The GLA and its licensing regime was established following the Morecambe Bay tragedy of February 5 2004, when 23 Chinese cockle pickers exploited by a criminal gangmaster drowned off the Lancashire coast after becoming trapped by incoming tides.
Calls for tighter regulation saw the creation of the GLA, with a focus on combatting rogue gangmasters in the shellfish industry, agriculture, horticulture, and any associated processing and packaging.
The new authority was also responsible for protecting the rights of the law-abiding labour users and providers who treated their workers fairly.
No disaster comparable to the loss of life at Morecambe Bay has thankfully occurred since the introduction of licensing, and the flagrant exploitation of vulnerable workers on such a scale has been significantly reduced.
More than 16,000 licence applications have been approved since April 2006, and there are currently more than 1000 active licence holders.
Licence holders are subject to regular compliance inspections and all new applicants must demonstrate they meet the GLAA’s licensing standards before they can operate in the regulated sector.
Applicants and existing licence holders who fall short of these standards covering health and safety, accommodation, pay, transport and training will have their licences revoked or refused.
From 2006 until 2020, the GLAA revoked 210 licences and refused 280 more, ensuring that its system is robust and credible in preventing worker exploitation.
This is demonstrated further by the fact that the GLAA has not lost an appeal against its decision to revoke or refuse a licence since October 2010.
The system of regulation requires a deterrent for those who operate outside of the authority’s regulations. Acting as an unlicensed gangmaster carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.
A total of 76 unlicensed gangmasters have been successfully prosecuted by the GLAA across all four corners of the UK.
But the real measure of success is protecting those who pre-licensing were at greater risk of abuse than they are now.
In 2019-2020 alone, the GLAA identified more than 15,000 potential victims of exploitation, recovering almost £100,000 in unpaid wages and holiday pay in the process.
GLAA Head of Prevention and Partnerships Frank Hanson said: “We are very clear that the best way of eradicating labour exploitation in the long-term is to prevent it from ever happening in the first place.
“Regulation plays such an important part in this and the great strides made over the last 15 years in stamping out abuses across the food processing sector from field to fork are testament to this.
“In the most recent survey conducted by the Association of Labour Providers (ALP), nearly 90% of respondents agreed that we’ve improved conditions for workers and 95% said that they were supportive of licensing gangmasters.
“But there’s more to be done. An ever-changing labour market and the COVID-19 pandemic have perhaps permanently changed working practices in many areas. We are alive to this and the potential for new ways of exploiting workers.
“That’s why earlier this year we conducted a consultation on how we inspect licence holders, with the aim of creating a system which is even more effective and responsive to customers.
“We hope to implement these changes in the next couple of months and will constantly review and improve how our licensing system works so it continues to protect workers in the years and decades to come.”
David Camp, Chief Executive of the Association of Labour Providers, said: “The ALP supports proportionate regulation of labour provision to facilitate fair competition. The role of the GLAA in maintaining a credible licensing scheme and thereby creating a level playing field is core to this.
“There is no place for illegal gangmasters or licence holders and their clients that profiteer and gain unfair competitive advantage through unrealistically low labour supply charge rates achieved through tax evasion, work finding fees or denying workers their basic legal rights.
“ALP looks forward to continuing to work in partnership with the GLAA to protect vulnerable and exploited workers.”
Shayne Tyler, Group Compliance Director, Fresca Group, added: “The work of the GLAA over the past 15 years has been extraordinary and immeasurably changed the face of the regulated sector and thousands of those whom have worked in it.
“The work is never done though, as the ever-changing risks to vulnerable workers continue to require the skills and expertise of this authority to help regulate, lead and support the sector.
“I personally have witnessed significant numbers of workers benefit from the GLAA and am personally proud to have worked with them throughout the past 15 years and observed the benefits of their work.”