Unions and industry have attacked the government's plan to put second-stage food processing and packaging beyond the reach of the Gangmasters Act.
The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) called the proposal "a sanctuary for slave labour" and said it would leave up to 200,000 workers unprotected. It warned that putting the exclusions before parliament this autumn would cause widespread confusion about who is covered by the new law.
Its views were echoed by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which has told the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that "there should be no distinction between first- and second-stage processing"
The TGWU said that only 50,000 people involved in on-farm processing and picking would be covered by the legislation if the exclusions were approved. "Wide-reaching exemptions will take a scythe to the act. Far from protecting tens of thousands of workers in food and agriculture, only a few thousand would find themselves covered," said the national secretary Chris Kaufman.
TGWU shop stewards have reported continued breaches of the act in second-stage processing in the meat, fish, fresh produce and confectionery sectors, despite high-profile prosecutions.
The National Farmers' Union and FDF have attacked a clause in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill that would mean fines for their members if they unknowingly employed illegal immigrants.