Record numbers of casual farmworkers are being abused by gangmasters, reveal figures from the government body that regulates the sector.

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has revoked more than 20 licences already this year – almost double the number as during the whole of 2007.

Some 1200 gangmasters are licensed by the GLA, providing labour to farms during busy times such as harvest.

It is illegal for gangmasters to operate without a licence. Offenders face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Intimidation and abuse

GLA chairman Paul Whitehouse said the authority was uncovering cases of intimidation and abuse at work far too frequently.

“Rogue gangmasters are making workers lives a misery and it is these crooks that we are committed to catching,” he added.

Migrants migrant workers

One investigation revealed shocking conditions imposed on mainly Polish migrant workers used for flower picking throughout the UK.

Abhorrent living and transport conditions meant workers were housed in sub-standard accommodation and transported in prohibited, uncertified vehicles.

Licence revoked

Gangmaster Jonathan Beckson, trading as Timberland Homes Recruitment, had their licence revoked with immediate effect by the GLA earlier this summer.

Based in Brandon, Suffolk, the company supplied workers as far afield as Winchester Growers, Cornwall, and Grampian Growers, near Montrose, Scotland.

Some workers stated that they received £24 for a nine-hour day, receiving as little as 4p for each bunch of flowers picked.

No timesheets were used, so pay could not be accurately recorded

Some six to eight workers shared rooms in converted farm buildings that were not licensed as houses of multiple occupation.

Workers were told they could not leave before the end of the contract without paying £700 which would be recovered from their families if they did not have the money.