Peter Hetherington wrote about the problems facing local provision of services in Lincolnshire faced by the wave of eastern European workers on Wednesday January 24, 2007 in The Guradian quoting a report " painting a picture of a county where working conditions have returned to the 19th century, with officialdom nationally turning a blind eye to the exploitation of young eastern Europeans, prepared to work 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, while living in grossly overcrowded houses, often "tied" to the job. "
On the Friday of that week Paul Whitehouse the new and first Head of the Gangmaster Licensing Authority (GLA) in comment is free in answer to these claims he felt the need to personally explain how 1,175 gangmasters had applied for licensing and 23 applications had been refused. He went on to explain the various ways that the GLA had launched their wok , which Lord Patel had detailed Wednesday, November 29, 2006 Chinese Cockle Pickers - new laws and prizes all round by spending a massive £30,000 radio budget announcing the Labour provider offences introduced 1 October 2006 and Labour user offences introduced on 1 December 2006.
Paul Whitehouse concluded (and implicitly threatened) "The GLA is committed to rooting out illegal activity. I look forward to hearing from Peter Hetherington about illegal labour providers that we can deal with, and then reading about their prosecution in your paper."
Well, good as whis word the GLA yesterday made a visit to a site in Evesham of food processing involving 7 gangmasters and their employees who , as a result have all had their licenses revoked. It appears that the the GLA informed the site owners and asked they did not tell the gangmasters , but it appears that an employee did. Until they have appealed , this has been heard and a decision is made the gangmasters can can continue to trade and supply labour.
The sites visited which were undertaken without police support were the packhouses of a large Tesco supplier, Bomfords at Atherstone, Salford Priors and Pershore some 250 mainly Polish and Slovakian workers were working there. All gangmaster labour providers failed by 30 points or more on a nominal scale of offences and one (Dynamic Workforce Ltd, ) was bad enough to have their licence revoked and stopped from trading with immediate effect...the GLA claimed their workers felt,"threatened and intimidated".
Paul Whitehouse is quoted
"The GLA was set up to curb the exploitation of workers and in the case of Dynamic Workforce Ltd, we had to take action immediately to protect the workers."The other gamgmasters cannot be named until after the appeal has been concluded.
Offences across all gangmasters included ;
1. Failure to provide payslips
2. Failure to provide Health and Safety training
3. Providing transport for which employees paid and failing to have drivers with a Public Service Vehicle license (PSV)
4. Failure to have records of employees, hours worked, dates, times etc.,
5. Failure to provide Holiday Pay.
The GLA will inform other agencies that Bomfords as employers of the labour , of the contraventions of basic employment law that could see Bomfords become the first fresh produce operator prosecuted since the GLA came into being. The agencies include HM Revenue & Customs, and the Department of Trade and Industry regarding claims about the payment of ther minimum wage.The GLA calculate the minimum rate of £6.41 (Euros 9.48) per hour per worker must be charged to the labour user or the gangmaster cannot meet their legal obligations and are therefore likely to be unlicensed. The UK minimum wage is currently £5.35 (Euros 7.91) for 22-year-olds and above and NI contributions must be paid by employers on employee earnings above £97 (€143.46) per week.
The GLA will also contact Health and Safety officials over the worker welfare allegations, and also contact local authorities to deal with affected workers who need accomodation. (Hackneyed journo pic is of Polish cockle pickers who have moved in and replaced Chinese cockle pickers i Morecambe)
The GLA say they are currently investigating a total of 39 cases, mostly involving labour provided to food processors they have a further 18 cases they are considering . Two companies are facing prosecution proceedings, while a third is being considered for a caution. Using unlicensed labour providers in agricultural and food processing and packaging sectors is a criminal offence and faces up to six months in prison, a £5,000 (Euros 7,400) fine, or both.
Evidence on further 18 cases involving unlicensed operations is being gathered by the GLA that could lead to full-scale investigations.
The Bomfords Group are a substantial group of companies based in Worcestershire and their turnover exceeds £150 million . They claim to employ more than 3000 people in the UK at the peak of the season and more than 26,000 worldwide and deal with major UK food retailers like Tesco and Sainsburys. They currently farms 8,500 acres of salad onions, runner beans, dwarf beans, broad beans, peas and asparagus. You can learn more about their "b-Prepared" products here. No doubt their lawyers Cobbetts will be busy today. Tesco are under assault from Emma Thompson and headlined for selling dodgy petrol , so they will be feeling nervous about these problems from a major UK supplier.
Paul "Gangbuster" Whitehouse
No doubt many will remember Paul Whitehouse as , Chief Constable of Sussex Police, who resigned a day after ( 26/6/01) the (then) Home Secretary, David Blunkett, ordered his local police authority to consider sacking him to restore public confidence in the force. (DB at the time of course was busy shagging another man's wife , rushing through visa applications for her staff etc., etc., activities which eventually destroyed the public confidence in him as Home Secertary)
This decision to retire rpematurely (his name was bandied about as a potential Chief of the Met) related to the operation which saw alleged drugs dealer James Ashley, 39, shot dead by police marksman Chris Sherwood whilst he lay naked in bed with his partner, at his flat in St Leonards 0400GMT on 15 January, 1998. There followed a lengthy litany of events thereafter which resulted in May 2001 , Mrs Justice Rafferty, dismissing the case against PC Christopher Sherwood, 34 of unlawfully killing a man during an authorised raid.
At the time Paul Whitehouse said he alone took the decision to quit and had not been pressurised by the home secretary or the police authority.
He said: "Although people have condemned me, they have never demonstrated with evidence that I behaved improperly. I have always behaved honestly, with integrity throughout."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said at the same time: "David Blunkett is not going to duck making decisions he believes are necessary to make sure the public continue to have confidence in the police."
Paul Whitehouse was interviewed about the raids on BBC "Farming Today" - one suspects we are going to be hearing a lot about the GLA and Mr Whitehouse this summer.
One wonders when someone is going to start lookig at the working conditions of the people who trim and top Zimbabwean Sugar snaps, and stringbeans...and Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Peruvian asparagus etc., etc.,
Of course low food prices keeps the CPI index down, the economy roaring alond and prudent Mr Brown with a smile on his face.