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Eversheds comment: Illegal gangmaster campaign highlights need for business vigilance

  • United Kingdom

    29-10-2013

    Following the launch of the ‘Stronger Together’ campaign to crack down on illegal gangmasters in the UK, several top food retailers have put their support behind this initiative which aims to drive out employee exploitation in the food industry. Paul Cotton, employment law partner at global law firm Eversheds, comments:

    “Businesses should take a vigilant approach to ensure that those supplying them with casual workers (gangmasters) are operating legally, and the launch of the ‘Stronger Together’ campaign is a great means of raising awareness of this issue. There is nothing unlawful about operating as a gangmaster per se. However, there has been concern that some suppliers of gang labour use fraudulent and exploitative working practices; employing illegal migrant workers, engaging in tax fraud, encouraging benefit fraud, making unlawful deductions from wages and flouting health and safety and minimum wage legislation.

    “Regulations make it compulsory for gangmasters who provide workers to agriculture and food or fish processing or packaging industries to hold a licence issued by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA). It is illegal for employers in these fields to hire workers from an unlicensed gangmaster. Designed to eliminate so-called rogue gangmasters, the rules were put in place to protect the rights of casual workers. They are, in part, a response to the tragic death of more than 20 cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay in 2004, as a result of which the gangmaster responsible was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 14 years.

    “Businesses should take steps to protect themselves by checking the GLA public register to see if their labour provider is licensed. There will be a defence against prosecution if the labour user can prove that he took all reasonable steps to satisfy himself that the gangmaster was acting under the authority of a valid licence and did not know and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting the gangmaster was not licensed.”

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