Gangmasters: Protecting your business and your workers

Gangmasters: Protecting your business and your workers

The Gangmasters (Licencing) Act 2004 was introduced to regulate businesses providing or receiving workers in the fresh produce industry and to prevent worker exploitation.

What do businesses need to know to ensure compliance with the regulations?

Licensing

The legislation introduced a licensing scheme for those who provide workers in agriculture, processing and packaging of all fresh food, drinks and other produce, horticulture and shellfish gathering. There are limited exclusions and businesses should check to see if they may be excluded from the requirements.

Businesses receiving workers must also ensure the relevant labour provider is licensed, including any sub-contractor. It is a criminal offence to operate without a license, engage the services of an unlicensed gangmaster and use false documentation.

The Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) inspect all new applicants for licences and undertake both random checks or inspections following a risk assessment. This is to ensure compliance with the regulations and details, among other things, standards relating to health and safety, accommodation, pay, transport and training. Non-licence holders may also be the subject of inspections.

If a license holder fails a critical standard during a compliance inspection, their license may be revoked. This may mean a business must stop operating in the regulated sectors with immediate effect. The impact of a loss of license should therefore not be underestimated, but there are processes that businesses can put in place to mitigate against this risk.

Where a decision has been made to either refuse an application for a license, attach a condition to a license, revoke a license or refuse the transfer of a license, businesses have the right to appeal.

Penalties

If you do operate unlawfully without a license, you could be subject to a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and/or a fine. If you enter into arrangements with an unlicensed gangmaster, this can incur a maximum of six months imprisonment or a fine.

A recent case involving a gangmaster, Mihai Varga also revealed the links between unlicensed gangmasters and modern slavery. Mr Varga transported men to work 12-hour shifts at a food processing factory and paid them as little as £20 a day whilst keeping them in cramped living conditions. He has been jailed for five years for human trafficking and fraud offences

Labour users, including factories, farms, packhouses and nurseries,  play a key part in compliance. The GLAA provide a number of resources that can be used to assist labour users, such as a public register of those holding licenses and an active check service to keep you up to date with changes to licenses.

Working Together

There are a number of ways labour providers and labour users can work together to assist in showing compliance by documenting your agreement in writing, working together to ensure health and safety on site and ensuring pay meets the required legal standards.

You should seek advice if you are unsure of your obligations in regards to Gangmaster Licencing and the prevention of modern slavery, to ensure that your business is compliant with the regulations.

This article was first published in the July 2018 edition of South East Farmer.