Gangmasters – Slave operating gangsters or legitimate business?

Our Damian Wall provides an insight into the Gangmasters Licencing Act 2004, what the laws and penalties are and how we can help.

The word ‘Gangmaster’ conjures up different images. Some people understandably wonder if it relates to some sort of Peaky Blinders style organisation. In fact a Gangmaster is a legitimate, officially regulated title of someone who employees or is responsible for employing people in manual work, mainly in the food or agricultural industries.

In our experience there is a prejudice attached to the name, but perhaps a campaign to change the name is for another day. Here I want to try and highlight the issues affecting Gangmasters and how we can help.

What does the law say about Gangmasters?

The key legislation regarding Gangmasters is the Gangmasters Licensing Act 2004. The Act was introduced following the Morecambe Bay tragedy, where 23 Chinese cockle pickers died whilst working illegally. The regulations were brought in to protect workers against exploitation, protect vulnerable people and thereby confront those involved in illegal and unlicensed activity. It provides a requirement that any person supplying or using a worker in any one of the regulated industries must have a licence. Those industries not only include gathering shellfish, agricultural or farming work, but also those involved in the processing or packaging of produce derived from such work. In addition to the requirement to hold and abide by the conditions of a Gangmaster licence, the Act also creates a number of offences such as:

  • Sec 12 (2) - Being in possession of false documents with the intention of inducing another person to believe that he or another person is acting under the authority of a licence.
  • Sec 13 - Entering into arrangements with an unlicensed Gangmaster.

What are the penalties for Gangmaster offences?

It would be very difficult to argue with the premise that workers should be protected from activity that puts them at risk of harm. Sentences for offences under the Gangmasters Licencing Act 2004 are varied and range from a fine up to 10 years imprisonment but depend on the circumstances of the individual case.

Many of the cases involving breaches of the provisions will be more suitably dealt with at the Magistrates Court where a fine or Community Order may be appropriate. But it is also important to note that the regulators and prosecuting authorities also have at their disposal the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and Immigration Act 2016. These statutes can be used to bring serious charges against individuals that can result in proceedings in the Crown Court where the maximum sentence can include life imprisonment.

How can we help?

Offences under these acts are not straightforward and it is vital that you obtain advice from a lawyer who practices in this area of law.

At Burton Copeland we have experience in dealing with a whole range of cases from simple breaches of licensing requirements, to large scale Modern Slavery allegations. It is essential to receive expert advice at the earliest possible stage of any type of investigation.

If you have been prosecuted, are to be interviewed by the authorities or have been asked to go in for a ‘friendly chat’ or to ‘assist with enquiries’ you should contact us today so that we can provide expert advice and liaise with the investigatory body, whether it is the Gangmasters Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), the Police or the Crown Prosecution Service.

We can also assist with appeals should you have been refused an application for a licence, wish to vary the conditions of a licence, transfer a licence or if your licence has been revoked.

Damian Wall is a Partner and Supervising Solicitor at Burton Copeland. To contact or see more about the work that he does, please see his profile.