Widespread use of illegal labour use uncovered in UK

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Gla Minimum wage

A BBC undercover report has allegedly exposed further widespread
use of illegal workers in the UK's agriculture and food processing

In response to the report, Paul Whitehouse, the chairman of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), said yesterday that the BBC allegations about FocusStaff would add to its own investigations into the labour provider. The report puts further pressure on food processors to ensure that their temporary workers are being sourced from registered providers. The GLA has also noted that the regulation has also led to an increase in temporary labour prices as suppliers respond to the law. The GLA licences and regulates all businesses supplying labour in or to the UK to undertake work within the agriculture, horticulture, forestry, food and drink processing and packaging, and the shellfish gathering sectors. It became illegal from December 2006 for the affected companies to use unregistered suppliers. Those who break the law face a prison sentence of 6 months and a fine. FocusStaff denies any of the llegal practices. The BBC report alleged that workers were paid below the minimum wage, accommodation was unsuitable and deductions were not shown on payslips. The GLA said it had started an investigation into the labour provider named in the BBC report in early 2007. "We have completed our investigation and we expect a decision on it's results shortly,"​ Whitehouse said. In cases where the GLA discover that the workers are in immediate danger the GLA has said it would revoke licenses with immediate effect and name the provider immediately. In cases where exploitation does not put the workers in danger the licence would be revoked but the provider would not be named until an appeal hearing had concluded. Since the GLA came into operation it has targeted particular sectors at times of peak demand. So far investigators have found evidence of exploitation and abuse and a web of previously hidden illegal activity, the regulator said. "Many of the products produced in these conditions will end up on the plates and in the homes of UK consumers,"​ the GLA said. One case has been sent to government prosecuters for review. More are being prepared and a number of cautions have also been issued, Whitehouse reported. The GLA has rejected 29 applications for licenses and revoked 15 licenses in the last three months, he said. "News of our targeted operations spread quickly,"​ the GLA said. "This is already acting as a deterrent for others. Some labour users have increased the rates they pay to their labour providers and contracts are being improved, and importantly previously unlicensed gangmasters are coming forward to be licensed."​ The Association of Labour Providers yesterday issued a statement noting that labour users should check the wages they have to pay labour providers as an indication of an illegal operation. The organisation calculates workers would have to be paid a rate of between £6.20 and £6.50 just to cover the minimum wage, national insurance and statutory holiday entitlement. Overhead and transport costs increase this figure to about £7 to £7.30, without any allowance for labour provider profit margin. "Labour users that pay consistently below these figures are knowingly or recklessly conniving in illegality,"​ the association stated. The GLA has also published an online wage guide for labour users. Temporary labour providers who charge below the minimum calculated rate of £6.41 (€9.48) per hour per worker cannot meet their legal obligations and are therefore likely to be unlicensed, the GLA says. As FoodProductionDaily.com exclusively revealed earlier this year, two food processors currently are facing prosecution proceedings for using unlicensed labour providers, and a further 37 cases are being investigated by the GLA. In March the licenses of seven labour providers to a major UK food processor were revoked, including one whose workers felt "in some danger". According to a 2004 study, about 2,000 labour providers were operating in the UK at that time. The GLA has approved about 1,000 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.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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