The scope and powers of The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) need to be expanded, Unite, the country’s largest union, said today (Wednesday 5 February) on the tenth anniversary of the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay.
Unite said that the undetected abuses of gangmasters were the equivalent of ‘modern day slavery’.
The fact that only seven gangmasters were convicted for operating without a licence in 2013 prompted the call from Unite for the GLA to increase its budget for investigations and for prosecutors to get tough with rogue gangmasters.
The union said it wanted the legislation extended to construction, hospitality and social care, where workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse and wages tend to be low.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “We believe that the scope and powers of the GLA need to be increased. The 2004 act is neither strong nor adequate enough to tackle what is modern day slavery.
“Unfortunately, the GLA is hampered by this government in its efforts. Last year, ministers 'deregulated' the legislation to ensure that first time licence applicants escaped inspection. This is playing fast and loose with worker safety to save business the inconvenience of having to demonstrate it is law-abiding.
“It also undermines those employers who joined with Unite to support the establishment of the GLA.
“Gangmaster-controlled work is worth £1.34 billion to the UK economy – and we need legislation to reflect and control the scale of this industry.
“Prosecutors must take these gangmaster abuse cases much more seriously. It is not enough to give a fine and a slap on the wrist. People traffickers need to be put behind bars.
“We need GLA powers extended to sectors where people employed could be vulnerable to exploitation, such as the hospitality trade and construction.
“There are gangmasters operating below the radar exploiting people and ripping off the country. They need to be subject to the full rigours of the law, with the GLA given the power and the remit to collar them too.”
Unite strongly supports the Early Day Motion of Jim Sheridan, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North which calls for remit of the authority to be extended to other sectors. Jim Sheridan played a vital role in setting up the GLA.
The GLA licensing scheme regulates businesses which provide workers to the fresh produce supply chain and horticulture industry, to make sure they meet the employment standards required by law.
Employment agencies, labour providers or gangmasters, who provide workers to agriculture, horticulture, forestry, shellfish gathering, food and drink processing and packaging, will need a GLA licence.
For further information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 07768 693940
Twitter: @unitetheunion Facebook: unitetheunion1
Notes to editors:
- Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.