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Gangmasters Licensing Act 2004

Country of implementation
United Kingdom
General short description of the innovation
The law regulates the labour providers and agencies (and their sub-contractors) that place vulnerable workers temporarily in agricultural work, forestry, horticulture, the shellfish collection and packing industries. It establishes the non-departmental public ?Gangmasters Licensing Authority?, which is governed by a board of employers? and workers? organisations, representatives from government and enforcement agencies, and requires that all such labour providers and agencies have a license before operating, and adhere to proper labour practice standards. A gangmasters for these purposes is defined as anyone employing, supplying or supervising a worker employed in the above-mentioned industries. A major step in the protection of employees is the application of the Act to individuals who have been employed in the UK without having the right to stay or work in its territory. The Act creates a number of offences with heavy penalties. Summary conviction may lead to a fine, while a conviction on indictment may lead to imprisonment, with a maximum sentence being ten years. It is also an offence to enter into an arrangement with a gangmaster for the supply of workers to undertake unlicensed activities. / / The act was based on a voluntary project, the UK Temporary Labour Working Group, carried out by companies in conjunction with trade unions through the Ethical Trading Initiative. The project provided a working model for how a licensing scheme could work, and also meant that ETI-member companies, including major UK supermarkets, lobbied for the new law. This happened in response to the deaths of Chinese migrant workers picking cockles at Morecambe Bay in 2004.
Target group
Policy Field
  • employment
Type of Policy
  • public
Duration of the policy
since 2004
Scope of innovation
  • Spatial coverage: national
General description of (intended) objectives and strategies
The Act promotes the greater protection of migrant workers? rights by establishing minimum standards through consultation with workers? and employers? organisations for the licensing of labour providers and by creating an authority to investigate possible cases of abuse.
Type of innovation
  • new form of partnership or cooperation
  • new policy, practice or measure
New outputs
  • regulations of the labour market
Clarification of intended mechanisms, outputs and outcomes (optional)
The GLA does not only provide licenses, monitors and oversees compliance of the labour providers and investigates in cases of abuse, but also runs a helpline in several languages to advise workers in their rights and to provide a safe and confidential method to report violations. It operates on licensing and inspections fees.
Intended target group
Workers, in particular migrants, employed in certain sectors
Working age population
  • main source of income: paid work
Actors involved in policy-making/implementation and/or evaluation
  • agency or national social insurance body (Gangmasters Licensing Authority)
  • central state
Intended output
  • regulation of the labour market
Clarification of outcomes in terms of impacting resilience and labour market inclusion
The GLA has investigated a number of reported cases of abuse, including situation of forced labour, threats and verbal abuse against workers, payment of wages below the minimum standards, which has led to the revocation of 57 gangmaster licences. However, the GLA struggles to carry on operating due to budget cuts and cuts in staff (Broadbent 2014). Furthermore, there is little control over gangmasters since the agency has few inspection resources at its disposal. / Some research found that ?too much is left to the individual agency of migrant workers to seek redress, through a system of Employment Tribunals that offers too few incentives and provides too many barriers for them to proceed down that route. Too many workers are left, as a consequence of their ?undocumented? status, completely unprotected? (Wilkinson et al. 2009:78). Another issue of the Act is that it is limited in scope, applying only to gangmasters supplying workers for the purpose of harvesting or otherwise gathering agricultural produce, gathering shellfish, or processing or packaging agricultural produce. / / Sources: / Broadbent, P. (2014). Don?t claim we didn?t act on gangmasters after Morecambe Bay, The Guardian, 16 February 2014. / Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) (2012). Licensing Standards. / Wilkinson, M et al. (2009). An evaluation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. A report for Oxfam, Contemorary Slavery Research Unit (CRSU), Wilberforce Institutem University of Hull.
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