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Gangmasters

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 9 September 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to protect the employment rights of vulnerable workers employed through gangmasters. (290948)

The Government set up the Gangmasters Licensing Authority in 2005 to safeguard the welfare and rights of vulnerable workers employed in the agriculture, food processing and shellfish sectors, where gangmasters traditionally operate. The Gangmasters Licensing Act introduced compulsory licensing for anyone who supplies workers to do work in these sectors, and makes it an offence to operate as an unlicensed gangmaster or knowingly to enter into an arrangement with an unlicensed gangmaster. In order to obtain a gangmasters licence, a gangmaster must be considered to act in a fit and proper manner and must meet strict conditions, such as meeting correct payments for minimum wage, tax, national insurance, and health and safety requirements.

Following the recommendations of the Vulnerable Worker Forum in 2008, the Government have also put together a package of key measures to protect all vulnerable workers, including those employed by gangmasters. These measures include:

A sustained, three year, Government-led campaign to raise vulnerable workers' awareness of basic employment rights and encourage the reporting of workplace abuses.

The establishment of the new Pay and Work Rights line, through which vulnerable workers (and employers) will be able to report abuses and access information and advice about the rights enforced by Government.

The establishment of a Fair Employment Enforcement Board bringing together enforcement bodies and external stakeholders to drive forward improvements in support for vulnerable workers.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; and if the Minister will make a statement. (290949)

The extension of gangmaster licensing to other sectors of the economy was considered by the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum in 2008. However, the Government concluded that the way forward was to prioritise effective enforcement of the existing law, not to introduce new regulation. We are doing this through a campaign to raise workers' awareness of employment rights, including the establishment of the new Pay and Work Rights Helpline, which provides workers with a single point of contact covering five different enforcement agencies, and by strengthening the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate which regulates agencies in sectors not covered by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps the Government are taking to remove unlicensed gangmasters. (290950)

Under the Gangmasters Licensing Act it is an offence to operate as an unlicensed gangmaster, which, upon conviction, can result in punishment of up to 10 years' imprisonment, a fine or both. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) is responsible for enforcing the Act on behalf of Government, and now that it has moved on from its initial set up phase, the GLA is concentrating its resources on tackling those who operate outside the law. Operation Ajax was launched by the GLA in May 2008. This is a UK wide initiative to stamp out worker abuse by labour providers operating in the GLA sectors. Operation Ajax provides the brand under which the GLA undertakes individual enforcement and compliance operations against illegal and non-compliant labour providers. This type of approach is already used by other enforcement agencies to tackle criminality.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment his Department has made of the likely effects of the recession on the number of unlicensed gangmasters. (290951)

There has not been any specific assessment of the impact of the recession on the number of unlicensed gangmasters, but the Government recognise that difficult trading conditions might tempt employers to cut corners by operating without a licence, or otherwise maximise profits at the expense of their work force. With this in mind, the Government have recently reviewed the funding available to the GLA and have agreed additional amounts for this year and next, specifically to cover enforcement and operational activities. This will enable the GLA to recruit additional enforcement officers to target the areas where vulnerable workers are most at risk from unlicensed labour providers.

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many gangmasters have been prosecuted by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority since its establishment. (290952)

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has carried out three successful prosecutions all for operating as a gangmaster without a licence. In May 2008, a labour provider from Perth in Scotland was sentenced to 18 months probation and 140 hours community service. In May 2009, an Edinburgh recruitment firm was given a fine of £2001. On 1 September 2009, a Gangmaster based in the Morecambe Bay area, operating in shellfish gathering, was ordered to pay a fine of £600 and costs of £4,000.

There are a further four cases pending that have entered the court system:

one in relation to operating as an unlicensed gangmaster;

two in relation to using the services of an unlicensed gangmaster; and

one in relation to obstruction of GLA officers.

1 Figures provided by the GLA