Over a third of Northern Ireland gangmasters are unlicensed
29th October 2008
Many gangmasters may be breaking the law by supplying workers to farms and the food industry without a licence according to ICM research conducted on behalf of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). The research surveyed employment agencies in Northern Ireland and found that only 63% of agencies supplying workers to the food processing & packing sector and 64% who supply workers to the farming & horticulture sector hold a GLA licence. It was also noted that the smaller agencies were more likely to be unlicensed. Other findings include:
• Only 40% of agencies hold a GLA licence although 60% of agencies surveyed supply workers to the GLA regulated sectors and would need a licence;
• 20% of those who supply to the regulated sector had not heard of the GLA
• 14% of agencies did not know that a licence was required to supply workers into certain sectors;
• Only 1 in 8 could correctly identify when a licence was required; and,
• 32% of respondents wrongly believed that a licence was required for massage parlours, casinos and certain nightclubs The stakes are high with penalties of up to ten years imprisonment for operating without a licence, but the farmers, growers, food processing and packing companies could also face prosecution as using an unlicensed agency is also an offence with penalties of up to 6 months in prison. Anybody who supplies workers to agriculture, horticulture, forestry, shellfish gathering, food processing and packaging to Northern Ireland businesses needs a licence. T
his would include overseas agents, high street agencies, and the traditional gangmaster who picks up workers in a minibus from street corners.
The GLA who were set up to safeguard the welfare of workers across the UK have already made their mark by revoking the licences of 76 businesses found to be exploiting workers in Scotland England and Wales. With Operation Ajax under way in Northern Ireland those operating without a licence in the regulated sectors must come forward now, rather than risk being trapped by one of our many operations and face prosecution. Since Operation Ajax was launched in Northern Ireland the GLA have conducted 18 inspections with 6 formal warnings issued.
A number of operations aimed to catch unlicensed operators and those who use them will take place over the coming months. The GLA are requesting information on rogue gangmasters and worker exploitation from those who are exploited, worker support groups, the public and people working within the industry. Anybody who has information can contact the GLA on 0845 602 5020, or anonymously via the GLA secure reporting form at www.gla.gov.uk/report.
Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA, said:
“Ignorance of the law is no defence, anybody operating without a licence must come forward immediately or face the consequences.”
“It is unacceptable that the food you eat could have been picked packed or processed by an exploited worker. Anybody with information about exploitation or anybody supplying workers to agriculture or the food industry without a licence should contact us on 0845 602 5020 or anonymously at www.gla.gov.uk/report.”
ICTU Assistant General Secretary Peter Bunting said:
“The GLA are involved in vital work of inspection and enforcement which deserves better resources from government and more recognition from employers and especially employment agencies. The trade union movement respects the ethos and actions of the GLA and will happily work with employers’ organisations to achieve more widespread recognition for the GLA. The levels of ignorance about the GLA from employment agencies in particular are shocking, if not surprising. There must be a rigorous campaign of public information directed at not only employers, but also people working for gangmasters, so that they can challenge the shoddy and potentially lethal practices of some bosses.”
Bernadette McAliskey, of STEP who operate migrant worker support projects in Northern Ireland said:
“We welcome both the increased level of enforcement by the GLA in protecting the most vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse, and their increased visibility in N. Ireland. The workers are the victims in this equation and need support and protection before and after the exploitation is exposed. GLA staff are, in our experience, sensitive to the importance of this factor in encouraging those suffering such abuse to come forward.”
Since the GLA was operational in 2006 the authority has investigated worker abuse which has included:
• Forced labour
• threats and verbal abuse against workers
• workers forced to pay hiked-up deductions from wages for unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation
• workers forced to travel to work in ‘death trap’ vans
• workers being paid below the minimum wage
• workers whose health and safety have been put at risk
• use of illegal workers
• manipulation of worker documents Investigations have led to 76 revocations of gangmaster licences by the GLA, one prosecution with many more prosecution cases being prepared.
Please access the GLA website at www.gla.gov.uk for all news releases noting the licence revocations carried out by the GLA.
Notes to editors
1. The GLA stepped up its fight against those who abuse workers with the launch of Operation Ajax in June. The operation was set up to increase the GLA’s activities with an 18-month programme of unannounced raids.
2. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was set up in 2005 to curb the exploitation of workers in the agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging industries. It was set up following the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay.
3. There are approximately 1200 gangmasters licensed by the GLA
4. A gangmaster is an individual or business who: • supplies labour to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging • uses labour to provide a service in the regulated sector, e.g. harvesting or gathering agricultural produce • uses labour to gather shellfish. To be granted a GLA licence all businesses must meet the GLA licensing standards and the principle authority of the business must meet ‘Fit and Proper’ person criteria. Cross government checks are made on all licence applications.
5. It has been an offence to supply labour to the GLA regulated sectors since 1 October 2006, with the maximum penalty being ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine. Anybody found using an unlicensed labour provider in the regulated sectors faces prosecution with penalties of up to 6 months imprisonment.
6. All licences that are revoked have the right of appeal including licences revoked with immediate effect.
7. To date, 76 licenses have been revoked by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
8. GLA Chairman, Paul Whitehouse, is available for interview.
Public enquiries: 0845 602 5020
Media enquiries: 0115 900 8963 / 07825 797130