Farmers using seasonal workers are being urged to ensure that labour providers have applied for a licence from the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.
Labour providers have less than a month to act if they want to stay on the right side of regulations requiring them to obtain a licence to operate by 1 October, because it is taking the authority up to 30 days to process each application.
Gangmasters who operate without a licence after 1 October will be committing a criminal offence – punishable by a 10-year prison sentence and a £5000 fine. A team of 20 inspectors will police the system once the law comes into effect.
Introduced in a bid to prevent labour providers from exploiting workers, only 665 of Britain’s estimated 1000 gangmasters had applied for a licence by 1 August. Of these, 425 have been approved, with seven refused.
But the remainder of Britain’s gangmasters have yet to apply for a licence. A GLA spokesman said:
“If labour providers apply by 1 September then we won’t take any action if their application hasn’t been processed by 1 October.”
Some gangmasters are likely to stop operating rather than obtain a licence.
But industry representatives fear that many more will leave it too late to meet the deadline.
Others are likely to continue flouting the law.
The situation has serious implications for farmers.
If caught, employees working for illegal gangmasters could be ordered to stop work immediately, leaving farms without labour at critical times such as harvest, planting or packing.
The GLA spokesman said:
“We don’t want to cause any labour supply problems, so we would urge farmers to put pressure on labour providers to apply for a licence as soon as possible.”
This week, a radio advertising campaign was launched in Polish, Portuguese and English urging migrant workers unsure of their rights to report illegal or exploitative practices, such as tax evasion and pay rates below the minimum wage.
GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said the authority would use its new powers to end any abuse.
“We will work resolutely to drive out and prosecute those who refuse to conform to the law,” he pledged.