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May 28, 2012

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Gangmaster licensing to stay but in fewer sectors

The Government has rejected a call for the abolition of the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority but it is to remove certain workplaces that it considers low-risk from the scope of its regulation.

Venture capitalist Adrian Beecroft was commissioned by the Government to carry out a review of employment law last year. His report was submitted in October but it was kept under wraps until last week because of the controversial nature of some of the proposals contained in it.

One of these was the abolition of the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority (GLA), which was set up in 2005 primarily to safeguard the interests of workers in various food and agriculture-related industries.

Among Mr Beecroft’s concerns about the body were that it keeps no record of the number of people killed or injured in the industries it covers, it has failed to identify around 25 per cent of businesses who should be licensed by it, 75 per cent of the GLA’s £4.7m costs are funded by DEFRA, and “it imposes a considerable financial and administrative burden on the companies it licenses”.

Responding at the end of last week to the review the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) confirmed that it would not be taking forward this proposal. At the same time, Agriculture minister Jim Paice announced that that the GLA would “refocus its efforts to stamp out abuses”.

This will be achieved by removing from the scope of its regulation “certain low-risk sectors where there are far fewer vulnerable workers, or evidence of any criminal gangmaster operations”. These sectors include forestry, specialist cleaning contract companies, apprenticeships, land agents and voluntary workers.

Added Mr Paice: “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.

“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.”

The changes were welcomed by GLA chair, Margaret McKinlay, who said: “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 TUC, while welcoming the Government’s rejection of the call to abolish the GLA, expressed concern that protection for many vulnerable workers will nevertheless be reduced.

Commented general secretary, Brendan Barber: “It will now be much easier for new gangmasters – including those who have lost licences previously – to set up without facing proper checks. And while it is right to prosecute organised crime, too rigid a focus will send the signal that routine exploitation will be ignored by the authorities. Major retailers at the top of supply chains. . .will now be able to offer far less reassurance that UK-sourced food is free from exploitation.”

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