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December 14, 2011

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Gangmasters extension back on the agenda

Calls have been renewed for legislation governing gangmasters to be extended to the construction industry, with a Bill supporting the move set to be debated in the House of Commons in January.

Last month, the findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s Inquiry into Human Trafficking in Scotland gave its backing to a wider remit for the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

The report, written by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, pointed out that “gangmasters can induce the workers to claim self-employed status so that British landowners, farmers, factory and restaurant owners may, if they so wish, have no risk of legal consequences when they use such cheap labour”.

It continued: “Another problem is that the remit of the GLA is currently confined to the oversight of labour in the food and agricultural sectors, while exploited foreign labour may now be found in the service and construction industries, as well as in care homes. In our evidence-gathering it became clear to us that there seemed to be no good reason for the vital work of the GLA not being expanded to include these other sectors and to cover other forms of contract employment and outsourced work, and that employers who use such labour should hold some responsibility for wages and conditions.”

The report recommends that the Scottish and UK governments “encourage, assist, and give practical leadership” to those that regulate employment standards in sectors with large numbers of migrant workers; health and safety; environmental health; employment agencies; licensing practices; and the treatment of domestic workers.

Such support, argues the report, would help ensure that regulators embed anti-trafficking into their policy and operational activities and learn from the regulatory model and practices of the GLA on labour exploitation, forced labour, and human trafficking.

Commenting on the report, Harry Frew, regional secretary of UCATT Scotland, said: “The report clearly identifies that the GLA’s strict licensing regime is the most effective way in cutting down on these abuses, and the vital need to extend its powers to construction and other industries.”

The Government is currently undertaking a review of compliance and enforcement of workplace rights, which will consider how the GLA and its practices can be incorporated into a broader enforcement brief.

Asked in the House of Lords why the construction industry should be exempt from regulation by the GLA, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, Under-Secretary of State at Defra, replied: “Noble Lords will accept that there needs to be balance. We do not want employment to be so difficult and complex that people are discouraged from taking on employment, but we all have a duty to make sure that vulnerable workers are properly protected.”

Lord Taylor added that the GLA’s budget for enforcement activities is protected for the next four financial years.

A Private Member’s Bill seeking to amend section 3 of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, so that the provisions of the Act would apply to the construction industry, is due to be heard in the House of Commons on 20 January.

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