GLA faces claims that it was negligent in approving a licence for DJ Houghton Catching Services Ltd (see timeline below). Last month the chicken-catching business agreed to pay the workers more than £1M in compensation, including costs (December 20), in an out of court settlement, law firm Leigh Day said.
Now that the claims against DJ Houghton have been settled, the claims against the GLA can proceed, it added.
The six workers claimed DJ Houghton provided overcrowded and dirty accommodation that was “ridden with bedbugs and fleas”, and that they were subjected to intimidation and abuse.
There was no – or limited – access to their contracts, they claimed, and wages were docked for unreasonable reasons. This included leaving unwashed mugs in a kitchen sink, complaining about injuries, being seen on a night out on days off and helping colleagues to register for National Insurance numbers.
They worked continuously for days at a time with short breaks, and were sent to various parts of the country on up to seven hour minibus journeys for work unpaid, they claimed. They also alleged that they weren’t told how long they would be required to spend away from home, and had to guess how much food to take.
But, the GLA allegedly knew of the workers’ mistreatment five years before the firm was raided in 2012, the lawyer representing the men claimed.
Leigh Day partner Shanta Martin told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “The claimants allege that the GLA were negligent and/or in breach of the Human Rights Act in failing to intervene earlier, despite having credible evidence that workers were being exploited and physically abused.
‘Terribly exploited by a British business’
The GLA’s 2012 verdict: ““This is one of the worse cases of exploitation the GLA has ever uncovered in the food supply chain. The GLA remains committed to tackling the worst offenders, ensuring that those companies and individuals that are intent on exploiting workers are prevented from holding a GLA licence, or have their licence revoked.”
“Our clients have faced enormous difficulties since they came to the UK thinking they would be earning a decent living for honest work, but found themselves being terribly exploited by a British business.”
In January 2007, the GLA had initially granted a gangmasters’ licence to the company. But it was subsequently revoked 10 months later after the GLA uncovered “multiple, sustained egregious breaches of its licensing standards”.
The GLA uses a point system to decide whether a company passes or fails an inspection. Inspections require companies to have fewer points than 30 to pass (each breach adds points). In October 2007, Houghton scored 148 – later revised down to 110.
But, the GLA reissued a gangmasters’ licence to the company that month, after the firm reapplied using a different name three months previously.
The Lithuanian workers claimed the GLA had credible evidence that they were being exploited, but gave DJ Houghton a licence anyway.
About 30 workers were liberated from DJ Houghton in October 2012, after the GLA and Kent Police raided workers’ accommodation. The company was subsequently described as the “worst UK gangmaster ever” by GLA, after its inspection scored the company at 320 points.
The GLA declined to comment on the allegations.
A court case is due to consider the case on March 20 2017.
GLA alleged ‘negligence’ timeline
January 5 2007: The GLA granted Darrell Houghton – owner of DJ Houghton – a gangmasters’ licence, on the condition that three areas of non-compliance were rectified within three months
July 6 2007: The GLA Compliance Inspection found “multiple, sustained, egregious breaches of its licensing standards”.
Breaches included no gas certificates or electrical safety testing in staff accommodation, no health and safety training, no recognisable employee files and no written system for recording hours worked by staff
July 10 2007: The GLA informed Houghton that it would revoke its gangmasters’ licence from August 6 2007
July 23 2007: Second gangmasters’ licence applied for by the company, under a different name – the company name of DJ Houghton
August 2 2007: Houghton appealed against the decision to revoke the first licence
October 15 2007: Houghton’s appeal was rejected
October 16 2007: The GLA carried out a ‘first’ inspection of the company, for its second gangmasters’ licence, apparently unaware of previous findings, the law firm claimed. The inspector “did not make reference to, and it is to be inferred, was unaware of the previous findings of the GLA”, the law firm alleged
The GLA didn’t investigate company’s previous failings, and assessed the adequacy of the business on things it “planned to put in place”, it added. Although no risk assessments were available, the inspector gave DJ Houghton the benefit of the doubt, Leigh Day said
October 18 2007: First licence was revoked
October 18 2007: New gangmasters’ licence issued on October 18 2007, without any conditions
October 7 2010: The GLA compliance inspection judged accommodation was “in a very good state of repair, very clean and spacious”. Inspector examined one house of four workers, despite some housing allegedly holding up to eight staff, with insufficient bathroom facilities
The GLA failed to notice wages records were not being kept, and interviewed a few workers that were specifically chosen by the company owners
Two (of the six) Lithuanian workers were employed by DJ Houghton at that time, and said the accommodation was overcrowded and dirty
October 5 2012: DJ Houghton workers’ accommodation was raided by the GLA. The GLA liberated the workers, and carried out another compliance inspection
October 30 2012: The GLA revoked the company’s gangmasters’ licence for a second time. Workers’ wages were allegedly being withheld, and workers were threatened and intimidated. Supervisors allegedly punched and taunted staff they felt weren’t working hard enough, and one man used aggressive Rottweiler dogs to intimidate staff.
By October 2012, DJ Houghton’s point score had risen from 110 in 2007, to 320. The company failed 18 separate GLA licensing standards – enough for its licence to be revoked 10 times over – and the GLA declared the company as “the worst gangmaster ever”