Seven labour providers' licenses revoked

By George Reynolds

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gla Minimum wage Allegation License

The licenses of seven labour providers to a major UK food processor
were revoked last night, including one whose workers felt "in some

All seven gangmasters were providing labour to Bomfords, a Worcester-based food processor that supplies many UK supermarkets. All the labour providers were operating with a valid license and so Bomfords is not under investigation. The license revocations are part of ongoing investigations into the use illegal labour and labour providers in the food industry. Dynamic Workforce, based in West Midlands, had its license revoked with immediate effect yesterday, while the six others can continue to operate pending an appeal, the GLA said. Dynamic's request to continue operating until the outcome of an appeal was turned down immediately by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), according to the authority. The GLA said it refused the request due to the severity of the alleged abuses, including claims workers felt "threatened and intimidated". In the case involving Dynamic, the GLA said the workers expressed concern over what might happen to them once the gangmaster found out some of them had provided information to the authority. The concerns led the GLA to believe individuals within the group were "in some danger", said Mike Wilson, the authority's director, who spoke to FoodProductionDaily.com. No charges have been brought against any of the providers, and the police were not involved in the investigation, although the allegations of payments below minimum wage are being looked into. Paul Whitehouse, the GLA's chairman, said an immediate revocation is only taken only taken when significant regulation breaches are found. "The GLA was set up to curb the exploitation of workers and in the case of Dynamic Workforce Ltd, we had to take action immediately to protect the workers,"​ he said. The GLA has said it would not name the other six labour providers until the outcome of appeals or the appeal period lapsed. However an employee of Bomfords allegedly alerted labour providers that an investigation was underway, despite a request by the GLA that their presence was kept secret. This action, the GLA believes, may have effected the outcome of the investigation that could have revealed abuses of greater severity. The GLA said today that Bomfords is now co-operating completely with their investigations. Bomfords today refused to make a comment to FoodProductionDaily.com, while Dynamic would not return numerous messages left on telephone answering machine. The Association of Labour Providers, of which Dynamic is a member, also failed to return calls. About 200 to 300 hundred workers were being used by the seven labour providers during the investigation, according to the GLA. As many as many were 50 employed by Dynamic, and will now have to find employment elsewhere. The GLA is in the process of contacting the relevant authorities, including the Department of Trade and Industry (Dti) over the alleged payment of below the UK minimum wage. The GLA will also contact health and safety officials over the worker welfare allegations, while it will ask local authorities to deal with affected workers who need accomodation. Prior to the creation of the GLA in 2004, the Temporary Labour Working Group (TLWG) was set up to introduce a voluntary code of conduct to the industry. With the backing of unions, retailers, the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) and the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the group audited labour providers, issuing approvals. Dynamic applied for an audit on 21 November 2004 and were approved 24 February 2005. When the GLA came into effect, labour providers in possession of approvals requested that these be accepted, with no further requirement for approval. The GLA agreed, but only on condition they could examine the original audit documents. No audit ever prevented a labour provider operating, as they were voluntary. However, some audits revealed that abuses and wronging existed. After the GLA received reports that licensed, as well as unlicensed operations, were allegedly involved in abusing their workers, it decided to investigate. This investigation into labour provided to one user, has shown that ubuses exist even in licensed operations. "This will now force us to look at other TLWG audited labour providers as a matter of priority,"​ said Wilson. Bomfords produces prepared, ready-to-eat fruit and vegetables for supermarkets, including Tesco. The GLA is currently investigating a total of 39 cases, mostly involving labour provided to food processors. Two companies are facing prosecution proceedings, while a third is being considered for a caution. Evidence on further 18 cases involving unlicensed operations is being gathered by the GLA that could lead to full-scale investigations. According to 2004 Defra research, about 2,000 labour providers were operating in the UK at that time. To date, the GLA has approved 953 licenses, but believes that some of the 1,000 that have not registered consolidated with other operations. The GLA estimates that about 200 unlicensed operations exist, but with evidence suggesting that some labour providers with licenses by virtue of TLWG audits, are operating outside of the regulations, the scale of the problem could be far greater.

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