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Company refused gangmaster licence, claims UK authority

By Jane Byrne , 08-Aug-2008

A new business that has not been able to meet standards on workers legality and was a front for a previously banned gangmaster has been refused a licence, said the UK Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA).

A gangmaster is an individual or business that supplies labour to areas such as agriculture, horticulture food processing and packaging.

The GLA said that the company, Primeval Limited of Sparkhill, Birmingham was inspected by the GLA after it applied for a new licence but information gathered during the probe, according to the authority, revealed that the company was a front for A-Z Employment, which had its licence revoked by the authority in December 2007.

A-Z Employment had been closed down by the GLA for what the authority described as a series of worker abuses and illegal practices at vegetable packing firm, Simms and Wood.

The GLA said at the time that the blame over employment issues did not lie with the packaging firm, but with the gangmasters.

“If an abusive gangmaster thinks he can simply set up shop under a different name with someone to front the operation up who is no more than a puppet, he needs to think again,” said GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse.

In refusing the licence of Primeval, the GLA said that it found no company registration date or number for PAYE or VAT purposes and that the firm could not meet standards on payment of wages, tax, legality and rights of workers or prevention of harsh treatment and intimidation of employees.

Worker protection

The authority said companies using gangmasters should keep an eye for illegal activities to help protect their workers.

Tim Carter, GLA spokesperson, said employers who use gangmasters can help by checking pay slips and talking to their workers.

"The biggest problem is with sub-contracting, when gangmasters employ other gangmasters. This has the highest risk where the end user does not know who is employed by whom," said Carter.

GLA's Operation Ajax was set up in June as part of an escalation of the authority’s activities to make sure labour providers are operating within the law.

Penalties imposed

Gangmasters must comply with a set to standards to hold a licence, and operating a labour group without one can result in a ten-year spell in prison.

The GLA was set up to curb the exploitation of workers following the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2005. There are currently 1,200 gangmasters licensed by the GLA. The authority said that 70 licences have been revoked and one person has been prosecuted for operating without a licence.

"There are many reputable businesses in this sector, but unfortunately there are some who exploit these vulnerable workers," said Whitehouse.

"Those gangmasters who do not follow the rules risk being trapped by one of our operations. We will route out these rogues. There is no excuse for exploiting vulnerable workers and we will take the firmest action possible in all cases,” he added.

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