Employers and unions have praised the “swift action” of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) in revoking the licence of Baltic Work Team, a company accused of exploiting Bulgarian workers.
The 40 employees were not paid for 35 days, and had to eat some of the crops they were picking.
The company had already had its licence revoked, but was allowed to continue operating after an appeal. However, a second inquiry led to the licence being withdrawn immediately.
Frances O’Grady, TUC deputy general secretary, said: “This is a shocking case of abuse. The GLA was right to take this swift action.
“This company claims to provide labour to the construction sector as well, and the Health and Safety Executive should now investigate whether it is breaching employment laws in other sectors.
Trade union Unite said that by acting quickly, the GLA had shown it “has muscle”.
Regulations introduced under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act make it compulsory for gangmasters who provide workers to agriculture and food or fish processing or packaging industries to hold a licence issued by the GLA.
The rules are partly a response to the deaths of more than 20 cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay in 2004. The gangmaster responsible was found guilty of manslaughter and jailed for 14 years.
Tom Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, which represents employment agencies, said: “This case shows that the activities of rogue gangmasters in the agricultural sector are being identified and addressed.”