How the GLAA has tackled labour exploitation and protected vulnerable workers
27th December 2018
The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) was created in May 2017 and handed police-style powers to tackle modern slavery and labour exploitation.
In just over a year-and-a-half, our enforcement teams have made a significant impact, protecting thousands of workers and bringing several serious offenders to justice.
Our officers made 143 arrests in the 18 months up to November 2018, with suspects questioned over allegations of modern slavery and acting as unlicensed gangmasters.
In some of our most high-profile operations, we rescued some of the most vulnerable people in society, who we suspect have been held in captivity for years, and in some cases, decades. This was most evident in October of this year when we rescued a man who we believe had been living in a shed for 40 years on a fixed residential site in Cumbria. Later in the same month, we arrested a man and woman at the other end of the country just outside Southampton after receiving intelligence that another man had been living inside a shed, this time for the last four years.
In total, we have identified well over 3,000 workers suffering some form of labour abuse. More than 100 potential victims have been accepted into the government’s National Referral Mechanism, a process for ensuring that they receive the help and support that they need.
Just under 230 criminal investigations have commenced in this period, with 129 ongoing. Many of these are in our traditional regulated sectors of agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering, food processing and packaging. However, as our intelligence picture becomes more sophisticated, we are identifying and targeting offenders in high-profile sectors such as construction, hand car washes and nail bars. The demand is only increasing, with between 25 and 30 investigations being opened every month now.
These investigations do not take into account our enforcement activity requested by our operational partners such as police forces, HMRC’s National Minimum Wage team, councils and the National Crime Agency. This joint working is crucial in identifying potential criminals and protecting victims.
Ultimately, our work is judged by how successful we are along with our partners in prosecuting offenders.
Working with Nottinghamshire Police, we ensured that Nottingham landlord Sajmon Brzezinski was taken off the streets. He is serving eight years for modern slavery and fraud after pleading guilty in June 2017.
Bogus Lithuanian gangmasters Stasys Skarbalius and Virginija Skarbaliene were deported from the UK in November 2017 after our investigators discovered that they had built up an illegal property empire in Lincolnshire.
Nine members of a gang who trafficked vulnerable Latvian men and women to Derby were jailed in November 2018 for more than 33 years following Derbyshire Police’s biggest ever human trafficking case which was supported by our officers.
In August 2018, we secured four successful prosecutions in Northern Ireland. Romanian gangmaster Laurentiu Ciurar was jailed for three months after the judge said that he had made money from some of the most vulnerable people in society.
Lithuanian men Rolandas Linkevicius, Aurimas Andrijauskas and Airidas Grabausks were all fined for also acting as unlicensed gangmasters.
In October 2018, the first ever Labour Market Enforcement Order (LMEO) was issued to couple Sabina Gaina and Badar Hayat who supplied illegal workers living in Leicester to food factories, making a small fortune in the process.
The order, described as an ASBO for rogue employers, was introduced as part of the Immigration Act 2016, which also brought in Labour Market Enforcement Undertakings (LMEUs).
These new powers were used for the first time in the UK when we issued the undertakings to a Romanian couple living in Wolverhampton, preventing them from providing workers without a licence.
There are also other practical steps we have taken to help exploited workers. Almost £400,000 in withheld wages and holiday pay has been identified in addition to another £180,000 recovered directly for workers.
We have maintained and strengthened our licensing regime in our regulated sectors, publishing our new Licensing Standards this October.
We have refused 23 licences in the last 18 months and revoked a further 29.
Currently, 1,000 businesses hold GLAA licences.
Our compliance team has been busy enforcing the licensing scheme, conducting over 300 inspections and identifying nearly 7,500 workers affected by potential breaches of the Licensing Standards.
But we understand that our enforcement activity will only achieve so much in the fight against modern slavery and labour exploitation. We accept that we cannot simply arrest our way out of the problem.
Since our transition from the old Gangmasters Licensing Authority to the GLAA, we have made great strides in developing our prevention agenda and engaging with businesses and stakeholders to make real progress in eradicating modern slavery.
Our Construction Protocol, launched in October 2017, has 70 signatories, with some of the biggest names in the building industry committing to work in partnership with us to put an end to labour exploitation.
Just last month, our joint Apparel and General Merchandise Public and Private Protocol (also known as the Textiles Protocol) was formally announced by the Prime Minister at her Modern Slavery Taskforce. Bringing together public and private sector bodies as well as respected high street retailers such as Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and New Look, the protocol will play a pivotal role in disrupting exploitative practices, for example in textile supply chains.
We have also demonstrated our commitment to work in partnership with other organisations on projects they are leading. In October this year, the Downstream Fuel Association’s Responsible Car Wash Scheme was unveiled which will address labour abuse and lack of compliance with regulations within the rapidly expanding hand car wash industry.
GLAA Director of Operations Ian Waterfield said: “Since acquiring our new powers, we have wasted no time taking the fight to those who believe it is acceptable to exploit workers across the labour market. Our 38 labour abuse prevention officers recruited last year have made a significant impact alongside our existing investigators in sending a strong signal that we will not tolerate modern slavery and exploitation in any form.
“All the indications are that 2019 will be an even busier year for us, with more investigations, arrests, and victims safeguarded.
“As an intelligence-led organisation, we are very clear that we cannot tackle this problem alone. We rely on your help to let us know if you see any signs that workers are being exploited for their labour.”
If you suspect someone is being exploited, contact our dedicated intelligence team on 0800 432 0804 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, call the Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700.