Press release

Tougher enforcement action and stronger penalties for unscrupulous employers

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

In a crack down on illegal working, unscrupulous employers who exploit workers will face tougher enforcement action and stronger penalties.

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Unscrupulous employers who exploit workers will face tougher enforcement action and stronger penalties as part of the government’s long-term plan to ensure the economy delivers for hard-working people, the Prime Minister announced today.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) will today become part of the Home Office in a move which will strengthen its enforcement and intelligence capabilities, putting it directly alongside the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) considerable resources to tackle the highest harm offenders. The GLA will have expert support from the NCA’s intelligence hub which provides a single picture of all the threats from serious and economic crime. It will also be able to tap into the resources and reach of the NCA’s 4,500 officers and its international presence in 40 countries, through national tasking and co-ordination mechanisms. The NCA has recently secured agreements with Afghanistan and Greece to tackle the movement of trafficked people, and is engaged in operations to disrupt organised crime groups involved in the illegal exploitation of workers.

The Prime Minister also announced plans to tackle recruitment agencies which discriminate against UK workers by recruiting solely from abroad. The government will consult on new regulations to require these agencies to advertise vacancies in English in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

A key part of our long-term plan is making sure our economy delivers for people who do the right thing, so everyone who wants to work hard can get on in life.

The changes we are making today will help stop practices which exploit vulnerable workers and undercut local businesses that play by the rules. They will give workers in Britain a fair crack of the whip when it comes to getting a job themselves. That means more economic security for people across our country.

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The new plans announced today are in addition to action the government is already taking to tackle illegal working and recruitment:

  • new regulations to double the maximum penalty for employing illegal workers to £20,000 will come into force at the start of May 2014
  • increasing the maximum fine for employers paying below the National Minimum Wage from £5,000 to £20,000; primary legislation will shortly be introduced which will mean maximum penalties of up to £20,000 for each individual worker they have underpaid
  • new regulations will be introduced in Parliament next month to increase the penalties for rogue landlords who house workers illegally in ‘beds in sheds’; for a range of housing related offences, the potential sanction will be increased to an unlimited fine
  • £6.5 million has been made available to councils which has already resulted in the discovery of over 950 properties that were overcrowded or being used illegally
  • updated guidance to support local authorities in identifying rogue landlords and developing a strategy to tackle them; taking decisive action and sharing best practice; prosecuting rogue landlords and achieving the strongest possible penalties; and recognising and dealing with illegal eviction will be issued in the summer
  • the provisions in the Immigration Bill will make it harder for illegal workers to stay in the UK; powers in the Bill will ensure that landlords check the immigration status of their tenants; and will prohibit illegal immigrants from holding driving licences or bank accounts
  • in the Modern Slavery Bill the government will aim to ensure those gangmasters who orchestrate forced servitude of workers, often trafficked here under false pretences, are caught and penalised with tough sentences to match the severity of the crime, including life imprisonment

Gangmasters Licensing Authority

The GLA,, was set up in 2004 to protect workers after the tragic deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay. It licenses businesses which provide workers to the farming, food processing and shellfish gathering sectors to make sure they meet the employment standards required by law; and carries out inspections and enforcement activity. It was, until today (9 April), an agency of Defra. There is no change to the remit or funding of the agency.

It works in partnership with other agencies to protect vulnerable and exploited workers by operating an effective licensing regime and by targeting, dismantling and disrupting serious and organised crime. In doing so, it contributes to the government’s work to tackle modern slavery, organised crime and illegal working. Since beginning operations in 2006, it has issued more than 2,500 licences, and there are currently just under 1,000 licence holders. In that time, the authority has brought 69 successful prosecutions - 44 for unlicensed gangmasters, 24 for using an unlicensed gangmaster, and one for obstructing an investigation. The GLA has also revoked licences in 204 cases, where the holder has breached licensing standards on pay, safety and other matters.

Moving the GLA to the Home Office will strengthen the GLA’s operational links to the wider law enforcement family: the NCA, the regional crime hubs, local police forces and immigration enforcement teams. A specific single point of contact in the NCA intelligence hub and in Immigration Enforcement Intelligence will be provided and GLA investigators will also have access to College of Policing accredited training developed for Immigration Enforcement investigators.

Published 9 April 2014