Government wages war on illegal gangmasters

About six workers were sleeping in this garage earlier this year. However, since the last inspection

About six workers were sleeping in this garage earlier this year. However, since the last inspection, the beds have been removed. - Credit: Archant

THE Government authority leading the fight against unlicensed gangmasters has vowed to identify, disrupt and dismantle them.

In the past year, The Licensed Gangmasters Authority has carried out almost 200 inspections, revoked 16 licences and engaged in more than 80 criminal investigations.

A Gangmasters Licensing Authority spokesman said: “We are committed to concentrating on rooting out and dealing with the most serious offences we encounter - specifically forced labour, which is a form of human trafficking.

“We will also work more closely with other agencies to dismantle organised crime operations and target tax evasion.”

The authority relies on intelligence gathering and tip-offs to tackle unlicensed gangmasters who exploit migrant workers.

The spokesman said: “It is an entirely confidential service. You do not have to give your name.

“We record intelligence and if we get several reports about the same way alarms bells start ringing and, in conjunction with police, HMRC and the UK Border Agency, we will carry out inspections.”

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Migrant workers become trapped in a cycle of exploitation the moment they arrive in the country.

“In a typical case someone, usually from Poland, Latvia or Lithuania, pays a finders fee to find them a job in England,” the spokesman said.

“The problem is, despite the gangmasters’ promises, it takes a while to find work and they get into debt.

“The gangmasters control the workers bank accounts, so it might look like they are getting paid the correct amount each month but the workers only get a small amount of the money.

“They are taken to and fetched from work and in some instances are not allowed to leave the property.

“We do find cases where workers are intimidated by gangmasters, which stops them from finding alternative employment.”

If you have any information about the mistreatment of workers, labour providers operating without a licence or a business using an unlicensed gangmaster, call 0800 432 0804

Lines are open Monday to Friday 9am- 5pm and you can leave a message outside of these hours.

You can also call 0115 959 7049 (and leave a message outside of office hours using this number) or 0115 959 7052 to speak to one of the intelligence team.

For more information go to http://gla.defra.gov.uk/

FACT BOX

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) protects workers from exploitation in agriculture, shellfish gathering, food and drink processing and packaging.

The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act was introduced after the death of 23 cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in February 2004.

The GLA operates a licensing scheme for those acting as a “gangmaster”.

Gangmasters are legally required to protect workers from poor treatment and exploitation, which covers issues such as working hours, training, terms and conditions, the national minimum wage and transport to ensure labour providers meet the basic safety and welfare standards.

Operating as a gangmaster without a licence is illegal and carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence.

Using an unlicensed gangmaster carries a one year prison sentence.

At the end of March 2013, there were 1,157 licensed gangmasters in the UK.

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