Contrary to fears that they would be excluded, workers in food manufacturing employed by external agencies will now be covered by the Gangmasters Licensing (Exclusions) Regulations 2006, introduced by the UK government last week.
The decision to implement “option four”, which covers those employed in secondary processing and packaging of food, was announced by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister Jim Knight. It followed intensive lobbying by the industry and unions.
Under the new regulations, which come into effect from October 1, gangmasters will require licences to operate and these will need to be renewed annually. Gangmasters can start applying for licences from April 6 and it will become an offence to use an unlicensed gangmaster from December 1. Licensing of gangmasters for shellfish gathering will begin as from October 1 and it will be offence not to be licensed from April 2007.
Up to 600,000 workers will be protected from exploitation by rogue employers, said Knight. While processors will be covered under the new rules, those supplying labour to retailers, caterers or wholesalers will not. Licence fees will range from £250 for businesses with a turnover of up to £1m to £4,000 for those over £10M.
“We have a simple, easily understood licensing regime,” said Knight. “We are acting to protect everyone involved in picking, processing, preparing or packing produce if they are supplied by gangmasters. We consulted with industry, employers and unions to come up with what we are certain is the best solution.
“Of course, many gangmasters run safe and legitimate businesses but it's imperative that we do everything we can to weed out the rogues among them. By introducing a sensible and robust system of licensing, to be administered by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA, we can do that. It will become an offence for a gangmaster to operate without a licence.”
Implementation of the new rules will be policed by the GLA - which will have 20 inspectors - using intelligence derived from five other government departments, including those dealing with employment, immigration and taxation. Risk-based methods will be used to monitor compliance, said GLA chief executive Mike Wilson. The GLA, he added, would use “intelligence led, joint operations with the police and Inland Revenue”
The move has been widely welcomed by the industry, bodies such as the Fresh Produce Consortium and Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), which represents manufacturers and retailers, and unions. ETI director Dan Rees said: “The government's announcement is exactly what the food industry wanted - a level playing field across the entire sector … Licensing imposes new checks on employers to verify that workers are employed legally; for example, paid the minimum wage, work reasonable hours and in safe conditions.”
“Importantly it serves notice on the rogues and scoundrels who plague this industry. Those who rip-off and exploit their workers and clients, wherever they may be in the food chain, will not be tolerated or rewarded with a contract to supply labour,” said T&G general secretary Jack Dromey. “So, we commend the government for listening to the views of the industry who said clearly and consistently that only licensing from farm to factory will work.”