Not a law unto themselves

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gla, Gangmasters licensing authority, License, Temporary labour working group

Not a law unto themselves
gangmasters are clamping down on unsafe and illegal working practices

Retailers putting pressure on suppliers to minimise costs will come under scrutiny, as a major investigation by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) reveals unsafe working practices.

In a raid last month at vegetable packing firm Simms and Wood of Wyre Piddle near Evesham, the GLA found several health and safety breaches. The GLA subsequently revoked the licences of three gangmasters which supplied workers to the firm - one with immediate effect.

The GLA's operation Scorpion discovered a minibus with no tax, no insurance and a single usable door being used to transport 14 staff to and from work. Other discoveries included a serious hygiene issue involving employees working with food destined for major UK supermarkets and employees working between 60 and 70 hours a week, with only 39 hours shown on payslips. There was also no accurate record of the number of workers employed or their identity.

In a recent independent report for the GLA compiled by the universities of Sheffield and Liverpool, multiple retailers were criticised for ethical trading initiatives at odds with targets set for their buyers and managers.

GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said: "There are many reputable businesses in this sector, but unfortunately there are some who exploit these vulnerable workers."

A spokesman for the British Retail Consortium said: "This case raises two serious issues. The gangmasters were licensed, yet many of the workers were illegal or not properly documented. Any labour user is likely to assume a licensed gangmaster is abiding by the law."

He added: "The conditions on these premises are clearly the responsibility of the operators but customer safety is paramount for retailers. That's why they rigorously inspect. Packing houses, though, are the most fragmented part of the supply chain and retailers cannot inspect every day or week.

"The retailers involved will all now be carrying out vigorous enquiries to establish what went wrong in this case."

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