A BILL WHICH will introduce a compulsory licensing scheme for suppliers of labour in the agricultural, horticultural and shellfish industries has received Royal Assent.

The Gangmasters Licensing Act (2004) was brought forward in the form of a private members bill by Jim Sheridan MP.

The NFU described it as an important milestone in improving the system for supplying labour to the farming industry.

Meurig Raymond, the union‘s vice president, said: “We have said from the outset that vigorous enforcement is the key to cracking the gangmaster problem.

“We will be working closely with the Transport and General Workers Union… and DEFRA and the other agencies of government to ensure that the licensing scheme achieves this.”

But Mr Raymond added that other links in the food chain, such as retailers, needed to play their part in the process.

Under the Act a statutory Gangmasters Licensing Authority will be established, which will include two board members nominated by the NFU. 

A shadow authority is expected to be in place soon, with the licensing scheme going live properly in the spring of next year.

There will be regulations to ensure that normal use of labour, for example the loaning of labour by a farmer to a neighbour, will be exempt from the licensing requirement.

Farmers will also not be open to prosecution for employing unlicensed gangmasters if they have taken reasonable steps to avoid doing so.