Sainsbury's chief issues gangmaster licensing change warning

12 March 2013

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

The Chief Executive of Sainsbury's has expressed concerns about the government's plans to reform the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA).

Justin King believes the decision to relax the GLA's protection of workers in the food industry "will severely weaken the organization".

The government aims to limit the number of compliance visits carried out by the GLA to factories and businesses that employ large numbers of casual workers. Companies applying for a gangmasters license will no longer need to attend a face-to-face interview.

In a letter sent to the Labour MP Michael Connarty, Mr King claimed these changes "will make it easier for rogue gangmasters to operate in the sector and will mean that vulnerable workers are more likely to be mistreated".

The GLA is a public body that regulates the supply of staff to the agricultural, horticultural and shellfish industries. Any employment agency that operates in these fields must be licensed by the authority. It was established in 2005 in response to the death of 21 cockle pickers in Morecambe.

In response to Mr King's claims, the organization's Chief Executive, Paul Broadbent, told BBC Radio 4's World At One programme: "There is no substitute for sitting across a table and weighing that person up, but have we got the resources to do that on every occasion? It's debateable."

David Heath, the government Minister for Farming, said the changes will ensure vulnerable workers receive a greater level of protection.

He commented: "Vulnerable workers will be better protected as the GLA's inspectors will be freed up to clamp down on high risk criminal labour, while at the same time responsible employers will avoid a range of unnecessary costs and bureaucracy."

Mr King's letter also claimed that retailers such as Sainsbury's cannot be responsible for the standards of the entire supply chain.

He stated: "We cannot perform the role of the GLA in policing labour abuses right through the entire supply chain and we are aware that without the intelligence received by the GLA a number of supply chain issues would go undiscovered."

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