Gangmaster Licensing Authority target worker abuse in Northern Ireland – Operation Ajax.
11th July 2008
Following the first joint action between the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) and PSNI in Co. Tyrone recently, the GLA have announced that Operation Ajax will also include Northern Ireland operations. Operation Ajax will see the GLA increasing its activities across the UK with an 18- month programme of targeted enforcement, involving surprise raids in places where the GLA believes there is abuse.
Northern Ireland is one of the areas of concern for the GLA, where it suspects that unlicensed activity is taking place and some reports of worker abuse have already been received. The GLA was set up to safeguard the welfare of workers across the UK in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging.
Whilst making sure that anybody who supplies workers to these sectors are licensed. With penalties of up to ten years imprisonment for operating without a licence and up to six months imprisonment for the farmer, packer or processor who uses an unlicensed gangmaster, non compliance is a risky strategy. To coincide with the launch of Operation Ajax the GLA are requesting information on rogue gangmasters and worker exploitation from those who are exploited, worker support groups, the public and people working within the industry.
Anybody who has information can contact the GLA on 0845 602 5020 or anonymously via Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111 or on the GLA secure reporting form at www.gla.gov.uk/report.
Michelle Gildernew Minister for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said:
“I welcome the GLA’s actions which are essential to stopping the exploitation of vulnerable workers. I am delighted that the GLA are stepping up their activity here. Anyone operating illegally in the North deserves to feel the full force of GLA action.”
Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA, said:
“Operation Ajax is a long term commitment from the GLA to enforce workers rights and stamp out exploitation wherever and whenever we find it. “We know certain areas of the country have high gangmaster activity and we know from our intelligence that certain enterprises, gangmasters and their associates deserve looking at closely.
“Based on this we have put together Operation Ajax to route out the rogues and catch the crooks – in short – if you are abusing the system, if you are abusing your workers – watch out – we’re coming after you.”
Kevin Green Chief Executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) said:
“Rogue agencies exploit workers and undercut legitimate agencies. The vast majority of agencies work hard to comply with regulations and look after their workers. The success of the GLA is important for these legitimate agencies as well as the workers.
Operation Ajax should take the work of the GLA to the next level and the REC supports the GLA’s targeted approach to root out what are essentially criminal enterprises.”
Bernadette McAliskey, of STEP who operate migrant worker support projects in Northern Ireland said:
“We welcome both the increased level of enforcement by the GLA in protecting the most vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse, and their increased visibility in N. Ireland. The workers are the victims in this equation and need support and protection before and after the exploitation is exposed. GLA staff are, in our experience, sensitive to the importance of this factor in encouraging those suffering such abuse to come forward.”
Since the GLA was launched in 2006 the authority has investigated worker abuse which has included:
• Forced labour
• threats and verbal abuse against workers
• workers forced to pay hiked-up deductions from wages for unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation
• workers forced to travel to work in ‘death trap’ vans
• workers being paid below the minimum wage
• workers whose health and safety have been put at risk
• use of illegal workers
• manipulation of worker documents
Investigations have led to 61 revocations of gangmaster licences by the GLA. Please access the GLA website at www.gla.gov.uk for all news releases noting the licence revocations carried out by the GLA.
Notes to editors
1. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was set up in 2005 to curb the exploitation of workers in the agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and associated processing and packaging industries. It was set up following the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay.
2. There are approximately 1200 gangmasters licensed by the GLA 3. A gangmaster is an individual or business who:
• supplies labour to agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and food processing and packaging
• uses labour to provide a service in the regulated sector, eg harvesting or gathering agricultural produce
• uses labour to gather shellfish.
To be granted a GLA licence all businesses must meet the GLA licensing standards and the principle authority of the business must meet ‘Fit and Proper’ person criteria. Cross government checks are made on all licence applications.
4. It has been an offence to supply labour to the GLA regulated sectors since 1 October 2006, with the maximum penalty being ten years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
5. All licences that are revoked have the right of appeal including licences revoked with immediate effect.
6. To date, 61 licenses have been revoked by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
7. Operation Ajax was officially launched on 2 June 2008.
8. GLA Chairman, Paul Whitehouse, is available for interview.
Public enquiries: 0845 602 5020
Media enquiries: 0115 900 8963 / 07825 797130