Vulnerable workers will be better protected from criminal gangmasters under plans to clamp down on unscrupulous operators, Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced today.
The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), which was set-up in 2005 to protect temporary workers from exploitation in farming, shellfish gathering, and food processing, will refocus its efforts to stamp out abuses.
By freeing-up resources for inspectors to take action where it is needed most, the GLA will clamp down on high-risk labour providers who commit serious crime. It will also work more effectively with other agencies to track and address cases of human trafficking.
The GLA will remove unnecessary regulatory burdens and costs for responsible employers. It will also no longer regulate certain low-risk sectors where there are far fewer vulnerable workers or evidence of any criminal gangmaster operations.
Mr Paice said:
“This Government is committed to protecting vulnerable workers which is why we’ll be using a much more targeted approach to clamp down on the high-risk, criminal labour providers and users where action is most needed.
“Responsible employers who play by the rules will be freed from unnecessary costs and bureaucracy, allowing them to get on with the important job of running their business, while safeguarding the rights of their workers.”
Under the changes, the GLA will:
- Focus far more on gross abuse of workers by unscrupulous gangmasters committing multiple offences such as tax evasion, human trafficking, health and safety negligence and other serious crimes;
- Work in a more joined-up way with a range of specialist law enforcement agencies using an intelligence-led approach to better target and pursue suspected serious and organised crime;
- Make sure the evidence it collects is used in wider prosecutions of organised crime groups and assist in the earlier identification of the victims of human trafficking;
- Streamline the licence application process, including no longer automatically making compulsory inspections of businesses when they first apply;
- Look to reduce licence fees and extend the licensing period from twelve months to two years or more for highly compliant businesses;
- No longer regulate proven low-risk sectors, such as apprenticeships, forestry, specialist cleaning contract companies, land agents and voluntary workers;
- Allow shellfish “farm” businesses with exclusive rights to use the seashore for shellfish cultivation to use their workers to grade and gather shellfish stock without needing to be licensed as a gangmaster. This is because these permanent businesses do not use gangmasters to supply workers, and instead employ staff under strict regulations from specific permits. This measure would leave activities such as the gathering of cockles from public shellfish beds, where gangmasters operate, fully within the GLA’s remit;
- Substitute administrative fines and penalties for low-level and technical minor offences, including a measure similar to a Repayment Order to achieve rapid reimbursement to an exploited worker of wages or other payment which has been removed;
- Explore the use of alternatives to prosecution when taking enforcement action against a labour user who uses an unlicensed gangmaster;
- Amend the structure of GLA Board and make it smaller to provide clear, strategic leadership and direction to the GLA so that it can be more effective.
Welcoming the changes, GLA chair Margaret McKinlay said:
“GLA plays a vital role in protecting the interests of vulnerable workers. We welcome these changes which will really help us focus our efforts on the areas of high risk activity that will make a difference, while reducing the burdens for compliant businesses.
“We’ve already been looking to apply a light touch approach to licensing the businesses we regulate and have started to focus our efforts on areas where exploitation of workers may be more of a problem.”
The changes to the operation are following the Government’s Red Tape Challenge. Defra will now work up detailed proposals and consult on them within the next year, taking into account the outstanding Department for Business Innovation and Skills’ review of Workplace Compliance and Enforcement Rights.
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