Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/458/5516
Gangmaster Licensing Act
Trade unions must organise casual workers
THE GANGMASTER Licensing Act (GLA) came into force on 1 October. This regulation of the 'gangmasters' who supply workers to industries like agriculture, food and packing is long overdue.
Teresa MacKay, RAAW- TGWU
The Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) initiated a campaign for this over 20 years ago and in 2001 the Biennial Delegate Conference backed the call for a national licensing scheme.
The GLA, with representatives in every sector of the industry, has been established to look after workers in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish-gathering and associated processing and packaging industries. From 1 October it is illegal to supply workers in these sectors without a GLA license, though the shellfish gathering industry has until April 2007 to comply.
It is estimated that there are 1,000 labour-providers working in these industries. The majority who have applied for a license are in the food processing and packaging industries.
There are probably many who do not know they need licenses, as there was no real campaign leading up to its introduction. For example, there have been no applications from Bristol, Avon and Cumberland and only six from Wales!
It has been accepted that labour providers need to add 30% on top of the minimum wage to cover all overheads, including transport, which would be a minimum rate of £6.98. Workers covered by the agriculture wages board would be entitled to more.
Any labour provider offering less than that is either underpaying their workers or evading their tax and National Insurance.
The GLA and Inland Revenue (now HMRC) need to check on the rates that labour providers are charging and what labour users are paying.
But some labour providers are likely to slip through the net and get their license, which then gives the labour user a get-out clause for a lower hourly rate.
Over half the labour providers in the UK have got away with underpayment for years and have not been caught by HMRC. How are the staff of GLA going to be any more successful?
Supermarkets are still pushing down prices, so the suppliers will expect the labour provider to either take the brunt of it or cut the costs by not paying the workers what they are entitled to.
The GLA can only be successful if it targets those who abuse workers' rights. The GLA must be extended to other industries that depend on labour providers, otherwise the criminals will just abandon agriculture in favour of those that are not regulated.
But the best way to begin making sure these workers are not exploited is to recruit them into the unions and fight to raise wages and conditions. The fact that the majority are casual migrant workers makes this more difficult.
The TGWU, the union that organises agricultural workers, should demand that they have access to the workers whose labour providers have registered.
It's time to make those who campaigned to get the GLA on the statute book prove that they mean what they say.
In The Socialist 12 October 2006:
Socialist Party NHS campaign
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party workplace news