Philip Acock, managing director at Fourayes Farm, is delighted by the inclusive scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Act

On Thursday, the Gangmasters Licensing Authority began inviting applications for licences from labour providers in the first phase of enforcing a new law that will revolutionise temporary employment practices.

Under the Gangmasters Licensing Act, it will be an offence for a gangmaster to operate without a licence after October 1, and after December 1 companies could face prosecution if they employ workers provided by an unlicensed gangmaster.

In the fresh produce sector, this will help put a stop to unfair competition caused by unscrupulous companies using gangmasters who provide a cut-price service but who might also operate outside of the law - by using poorly paid illegal immigrants, for example.

More significantly, however, the Act will help put an end to the exploitation of vulnerable workers who suffer poor working conditions and extremely low pay at the hands of rogue gangmasters.

As growers and processors of Bramley apples, we are hugely reliant on temporary labour to provide us with a flexible workforce to meet seasonal and market demands.

But it is not only growers that use temporary labour workforces; processors and packers do as well. So the decision by Defra to include food processors and packers in the Act was welcome news for the fresh produce sector.

And it now seems unthinkable that at one point they may have been excluded from the Gangmaster Licensing Act's terms of reference, as was suggested in the draft regulations.

Illegal practices in terms of labour can occur at all points in the supply chain, so why should one part be covered by the law and the rest left to look after itself?

I was heartened to see the industry uniting over the issue and forcing the government to cover food processors and packers under the Act.

The revised Gangmasters Licensing Act will go a long way towards ensuring that, in our quest to produce low-cost food, we do not forget the great importance of treating people decently.