Gangmasters authority descends on dairy farms in criminal investigation
UP to 70 dairy farmers have become caught up in a criminal investigation into the potential exploitation of workers and offences under Gangmaster legislation.
The farmers, who include NFU vice-president Gwyn Jones, hired labour from Wiltshire-based labour provider Marden Management, which has become the focal point of an investigation into the dairy industry by the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).
The GLA is investigating the company after discovering it did not have a GLA licence, as required by companies supplying labour in the farming industry. It is also investigating the rates of pay received by workers supplied by Marden.
Over the past few days farmers across the country, including Mr Jones, who farms in West Sussex, have been informed by the GLA they are under investigation and are to be interviewed under caution.
Under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act, farmers must ensure any labour provider they use is licensed. Anyone found to be in breach of the law faces heavy fines or even a prison sentence.
The investigation has sparked further controversy as the GLA has been demanding that some of the farmers immediately stop employing the workers in question. The farmers are warning this could create potential animal welfare problems, in cases where they are left with insufficient staff to look after and milk their cattle.
Marden, which provides temporary and permanent staff farms across the UK, has said it has made an innocent mistake. In a statement it said:
“Marden has not previously had a GLA licence as having taken advice our interpretation of the exclusion clauses when the GLA legislation was first introduced led us to believe that our business was exempt.
“It has now come to our attention that this is not the case and we are working closely with the GLA to resolve this situation as soon as possible.”
“We are aware of various allegations that have been made in respect of licensing and pay rates as part of this discussion. We are awaiting clarification from the GLA but, as a professional business, we are committed to complying with all aspects of the licensing requirements as soon as possible.”
It added that its priority was the welfare of its employees and the provision of quality farm staff to our clients.
“We regret the disruption that this situation has caused and we are absolutely dedicated to resolving this situation as soon as possible through full and open co-operation with the GLA,” the statement said.
The GLA said it was ‘currently conducting a major investigation’ into labour supply, potential exploitation of workers and offences under the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 within the dairy industry. It said it was unable to comment on the details as this is a criminal investigation.
However, its statement added that the GLA, other government agencies and departments and other stakeholders were ‘working hard to minimise the disruption to the industry in terms of continuity of labour supply and animal welfare issues’.
Mr Jones said he was unable to comment on his own business due to the investigation but said Marden had always looked after its clients and staff.
“I have been with Marden since way before the GLA was set up and I have always had fantastic service. They have looked after me but the focus was always on the staff. I was absolutely convinced they were compliant,” he said.