Defra sets up ‘gangmasters’ authority

Proposals
for a new body to help stop exploitation of agricultural workers have been
published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

A
Gangmasters Licensing Authority will operate a licensing scheme, set licensing
conditions and maintain a register of licensed gangmasters so that everyone in
the food supply chain can distinguish between legal and illegal operators.

The
authority will operate under the auspices of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act
2004, which  means that nobody will be
able to act as a gangmaster in agriculture, shellfish gathering and related
processing and packaging, without a licence. It will be illegal for anyone to
use an unlicensed gangmaster.

Offenders
risk up to 10 years in prison.

A
consultation on the shape and role of the new authority has been published, and
views are sought by Friday 29 October on issues including:


The composition of the board.


Ensuring relevant stakeholder interests are represented adequately.


The role of liaison groups.


Objectives to be met in setting licence conditions.


The proceedings of the board and its committees.

The
Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), the industry body for the
private recruitment industry, today said it would be posing some tough
questions about how the new licensing arrangements would operate.

These
include:


How agencies which only conduct a minority of work in the sectors covered by
the The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, and are already covered by existing
statutory regulations, will be treated.


Whether government agencies, such as Jobcentre Plus will be covered by the
regulations.


The level of bureaucracy within the new licencing body, particularly the fact
that the fee looks particularly high when set against the costs of the new
body.


How the new licencing body will deal with any potential shortfall in funding
(whether, like the Criminal Records Bureau, it will simply increase the licence
fee).


What specific performance targets will be created for the new licensing body.

Tom
Hadley, director of external relations at the REC said: "If we are to have
licencing for gangmasters, then we must make sure it doesn’t become costly for
the employment agencies that already operate within a strict legal framework.

"We
need to know how the licensing body will deal with any shortfall in funding and
the targets it will be set – £2,000 might not seem like a lot of money to Defra
when it is spending billions a year, but it’s a big cost for our smaller
members who may supply infrequently to this sector and who already comply with
the conduct regulations," he said. "Defra needs to balance the cost
of compliance with the ability to conduct business in this sector."

To
see the consultation paper and for more information, go to www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/gangmaster-reg/index.htm

By Quentin Reade

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