GLA "disappointed‟ with dairy farmer decisions
12th February 2013
Gangmasters Licensing Authority Chief Executive Paul Broadbent said he was „disappointed‟ the courts had failed to punish a group of 15 prominent UK dairy farms who „enabled the exploitation of workers by others‟ by employing Filipino herdsmen from an illegal labour provider.
The workers, all supplied through Christopher Blakeney, of Marden Management Ltd, received between £400 and £500 a month below the legal minimum wage.
In some instances they were also housed in sub-standard accommodation - one farm provided accommodation that leaked and had previously been used by animals, Swindon Magistrates‟ Court was told on Friday afternoon.
All 15 defendants, who pleaded guilty to „using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster‟, were given an absolute discharge and ordered to pay £300 each towards costs by District Judge Simon Cooper.
In reaction to the result, Mr Broadbent said: “The GLA is disappointed in the outcome of these cases. This was by far the most serious example the authority has tackled exclusively, in terms of the intentional, well-organised and systematic financial exploitation of workers, but the punishment does not fully reflect that.
“I remain convinced the farmers in court were part of an exploitative enterprise, benefitting from well-qualified labour provided at a price that was "too good to be true‟. As with a man buying goods „on the cheap‟ in his local pub, if the price seems too good to be true then it probably is!
“The GLA exists to protect vulnerable people, prevent exploitation and tackle those who take part in criminal activity. I‟m pleased to report that following our intervention, many of the farm workers involved are now earning between £400 and £500 a month more - for performing the same job through licensed, legal labour suppliers.
“The supplier in this case, Marden Management Ltd, was not licensed and was only able to provide experienced labour at such an attractively low rate because it was operating illegally ... as were all the farms that employed their workers.
“The Gangmasters Licensing Act is abundantly clear. It is an offence to employ the services of an unlicensed labour provider. A two-minute call to the GLA, or check of the public register on our website, would have answered that question and prevented these people from breaking the law.”
The farms who admitted the charge were: Luttman-Johnson and Jones, of Kirdford, West Sussex; J&M Riding and Sons, of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire; Skelton Farms (Eastern), of Grantham, Lincolnshire; GO Few & Sons, of Bromsgrove, Worcestershire; Hosford Farms, of Dorchester; AR & EJ Miller, of Gillingham, Dorset; Grove Bros, of Marlborough, Wiltshire; RL Latham, of Chorley, Cheshire; D Goodwin & Sons, of Lindfield, West Sussex; BJ Stainer & Son Ltd, of Melksham, Wiltshire; Hickson Bros Ltd, of Dover, Kent; W Maidment Ltd, of Pewsey, Wiltshire; Maple Durham Trust, of Maple Durham, Reading; Charles Dawson, of Nantwich, Cheshire and Wills Bros Ltd, of Wadebridge, in Cornwall.
On Friday, Brendon Moorhouse, prosecuting, told the court that the farms had all employed between one and five skilled herdsmen from the Philippines supplied through Blakeney‟s company, Marden Management.
The workers, who had been subject to a bond through an agency in the Philipinnes, were also tied to Marden Management Ltd, having half of their first two months wages deducted with the promise of repayment only on completion of two years work. They were allocated farms with accommodation and were also subjected to deductions of „administrative charges‟ of £135 per month.
As a result of the low rates paid initially by the farmers and the subsequent deductions, the workers were all paid significantly below the legal minimum wage for their 60 hour, six-day week – up to £600 a month below in some cases.
“The deductions from their wages at the start and the fact that accommodation was provided meant they had no opportunity to move on without serious consequences,” said Mr Moorhouse.
He also said there had been some examples of poor living quarters provided, including one farm providing accommodation „in a leaking building previously used by animals‟.
The court was told Blakeney and Marden Management Ltd had both admitted trading as an unlicensed gangmaster in November and would be sentenced in April.
Speaking in mitigation, Adam Vaitilingam QC said: “We are talking here about a strict liability offence – the breach of a requirement of a GLA licence being held by the labour provider.
“The question is: are you doing that wilfully and deliberately or entirely innocently? All 15 defendants are highly responsible and respectable members of the dairy industry, horrified by the situation they find themselves in.”
Mr Vaitilingam also pointed out that when asked directly about his GLA licence by his clients, Blakeney had at times answered that his business was exempt, while telling others that he did hold one.
“I know a number of the defendants are providers of milk to national supermarket chains and one is awaiting the outcome of this case to see if their contract with Waitrose is terminated,” he added.
“Five or six of them face very real problems if they come away with stains on their character.” In giving his verdict, Judge Cooper 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 was enabled their exploitation by others who were intent on doing so.
“This meant their wages were docked and they were bound through employment and by their accommodation. In one or two cases there were some unsatisfactory conditions of living, while in others the workers were brought into the family.”
But he said he did not believe a fine was necessary, adding: “None of you wants to be here. It‟s cost you a lot of money and you‟ve had these matters hanging over you for a long period of time.”
For further information contact GLA Communications and Information Officer Paul Fearn on 0115 959 7069 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
1. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) was set up to curb the exploitation of workers in the agricultural, horticultural, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packing industries.
2. The Act establishing it was passed in 2004 and licences first came into force in 2006.
3. The GLA is a Non Departmental Public Body.
4. Protecting workers is the key aim alongside protecting legitimate labour providers and protecting the tax payer by uncovering unpaid taxes.
5. Around 1,200 labour providers are now licensed by the GLA.