Forced labour at 4p a bunch Gangmaster’s Licence Revoked
7th May 2008
A Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) investigation has uncovered a disgraceful story of forced labour in 21st century Britain. The investigation revealed shocking conditions imposed on mainly Polish migrant workers used for flower picking throughout the UK. These vulnerable workers were threatened with huge deductions from wages and there was an even more sinister threat to involve their families in their home country if they left the employment of the gangmaster or failed to pay money to him. Abhorrent living and transport conditions meant the workers were housed in sub-standard accommodation and transported in prohibited, un-certified vehicles.
The Gangmaster Mr Jonathan Beckson, Director of Timberland Homes Ltd, trading as Timberland Homes Recruitment had their licence revoked with immediate effect by the GLA on Tuesday 6 May 2008. Timberland was based in Brandon in Suffolk and supplied workers to Winchester Growers in Cornwall and a flower picking consortium, Grampian Growers near Montrose in Scotland.
The GLA received full cooperation from both of these firms during its investigations. The GLA is passing the information on this case to the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC). Reports regarding the vehicles’ use in transporting the workers have been submitted to Scottish Procurators’ Fiscal to consider a prosecution.
GLA officers found:
• A threatening letter to workers stating that they were not free to leave before the end of the contract without paying £700, and if they did not have the money this would be recovered from the workers or their families in their home country.
• Timberland were subcontracting workers from an unlicensed Polish gangmaster
• Some workers stated that they received £24 for a nine hour day
• Workers received 4p per bunch of flowers picked • No timesheets were used, so pay could not be accurately recorded
• Scottish Agricultural Minimum Wage was not being paid
• VOSA had issued prohibition notices on six Timberland minibuses in Cornwall and Timberland flouted the law by transporting the workers to Scotland in these vehicles and continued to use these minibuses for transportation of workers there on a daily basis
• Grampian and Tayside Police Forces took combined action regarding the use of the minibuses, forcing the operator to reduce seating capacity due to their ‘unlicensed’ status. Reports regarding the vehicles’ use have been submitted to Scottish Procurators’ Fiscal regarding consideration of prosecution of the firm
• Workers did not give their consent for transport and accommodation deductions
• Workers were charged for the protective clothing needed to carry out the job
• Six to eight workers shared rooms in converted farm buildings that were not licensed as houses of multiple occupation
• There were not enough beds for the 43 workers and only 4 toilets between them.
• The Kitchen facilities were poor and used bedding and laundry was kept in the cooking area thus creating a serious hygiene and fire hazard
• Tayside Fire and Rescue inspected the accommodation at the request of the GLA and found the premises to be unsatisfactory and issued a report stating that it should be rectified without delay.
• Other contract abuses Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA said
: “There is another world out there that the vast majority of us are lucky enough not to see. Forced labour, intimidation and abuse at work is something nobody should experience but we are uncovering it too frequently.”
“Some labour providers are doing a great job in a tough industry, but the rogue gangmasters are making workers lives a misery and it is these crooks that we are committed to catching.”
“The GLA is here to route out the rogues. We are getting results through strong enforcement activities, which is the only way to stop this exploitation. Where we find abuse of vulnerable workers, we will use all of the powers at our disposal in the continuing fight to protect vulnerable workers across the UK.”
Some industry insiders have described us as draconian. We are. We are also ugly and intend to get uglier with those who abuse the vulnerable at work.”
Mark Boleat, Chairman of the Association of Labour Providers (ALP) said:
“The ALP fully supports the GLA in taking strong action against those labour providers who flout laws and mistreats workers.”
Jim Sheridan, MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire North said:
“I would like to congratulate those who uncovered this frightening story of worker abuse, something which seems unbelievable in 21st century Britain. This abuse will not be tolerated and I would like to see the GLA use all of their powers to stamp out worker exploitation in the UK.”
Jack Dromey, Deputy General secretary of Unite said:
“The breadth and depth of this abuse is staggering. This action by the GLA will free these workers from a working hell, and send a powerful signal to other employers in this sector that if they cheat workers, then they will be put out of business.
“We welcome this important intervention by the GLA, coming as it does on the day when the Commission on Vulnerable Employment exposes the twilight world of work inhabited by millions of vulnerable workers across the UK.”
Almost 1200 gangmasters are now licensed to operate legally in the UK and the GLA has uncovered worker exploitation, illegal activity that led to the revocation of 56 licences and a recent prosecution for operating without a GLA licence.
Notes to editors
1. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority was set up 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 in 2004.
The majority of workers involved in these industries come from countries such as: Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, India Pakistan and Portugal.
2. There are currently 1194 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 or 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. Jim Sheridan MP sponsored the private members bill that became the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004.
7. The Association of Labour Providers is a trade association representing the interests of labour providers across the UK. www.labourproviders.org.uk 8. Paul Whitehouse, Chairman of the GLA is available for interview.
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