A high-profile dairy farmer has received a conditional discharge after using the services of an unlicensed labour provider.
Brian Barnett pleaded guilty to the offence on behalf of family partnership Bill Barnett & Partners, of Astrop Farm, Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.
The case was heard before District Judge Simon Cooper at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on Monday (24 October).
It is significant because it is a test case for 18 other prominent dairy farmers who face similar charges.
The court heard that Mr Barnett had struggled to find suitably qualified dairy workers for the family farm.
Having searched extensively for skilled employees in the UK, he decided to engage the services of an employment agency with contacts overseas.
This company supplied Mr Barnett with two Filipino workers who came to the UK having signed up to do so in their home country.
Both were experienced dairy herdsmen. One was a qualified vet. The other had a degree in agricultural business management.
The court heard that Mr Barnett had satisfied all the necessary regulations when it came to employing farm workers.
Both employees worked six days on followed by two days off – averaging about 50 hours of paid employment each week.
Mr Barnett provided each of them with a rent-free three-bedroom cottage and the use of a car. He also encouraged their families to join them in the UK.
But he failed on one single count – that of making sure the labour provider whose services he sought was properly licensed.
The court heard that few people in the dairy sector appreciated the extent of legislation to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers.
It was widely believed that licensing rules did not apply to agencies supplying skilled dairy workers employed on a one-to-one basis.
District judge Simon Cooper conditionally discharged Mr Barnett for six months.
“I am satisfied that this was a purely technical offence – in fact there is no question of you exploiting cheap foreign labour, he said.
Reporting restrictions requested by DEFRA prevent the labour provider from being named because it too faces prosecution.
The remaining 18 farmers facing similar charges are due to return to court on Thursday (27 October).
“Licensing in agriculture and dairy farming can be a complex business. This works in two ways.
“It is necessary for the Gangmaster’s Licensing Authority to pursue the lack of licences. But on the other hand, it can be difficult for those needing a licence to be sure of requiring one.
“I am satisfied that this was a purely technical offence – in fact there is no question of you exploiting cheap foreign labour, quite the reverse.
“Your search for labour was lengthy and you enlisted a consultant to help you.
“These were two highly-qualified employees – one was a vet – and they were paid a proper wage.
“You provided two three-bedroom cottages, rent and utilities paid for.
“You encouraged their families to join them.
“You paid for a car for their use.
“When they asked about accommodation charges, you pursued refunds for them.
“You satisfied all of the regulations for them to come here but missed the need for a GLA licence.
“This is indeed a highly technical offence and the fact that you did not check on need for a GLA license is the only thing you did wrong.”
VIDEO: Brian Barnett speaks out