A plan to stamp out illegal gangmasters in the food industry is set to receive a major Whitehall makeover.
While the government has accepted the broad aims of a private Bill to introduce licensing and registration for gangmasters, it is also insisting on a string of amendments.
Rural affairs minister Alun Michael made this clear when the Gangmaster (Licensing) Bill passed its first Commons reading unopposed.
Ten specific changes have been listed by Michael. They include restricting the proposals to gangs supplied or used in agriculture, horticulture, shellfish gathering and related areas, covering 3,000 gangmasters and 100,000 workers.
In the wake of the Morecambe Bay tragedy, it was
accepted that the present situation could not continue.
Michael recognised that control would come at a price, leading to small increases in labour costs and ‘marginal’ price increases. Some amendments are intended to reduce the impact of higher costs.
He added that he was encouraged by the support of the supermarkets. However, Lib-Dem MP Andrew George questioned the strength of that support, and claimed the supermarkets were merely employing public relations window dressing.
Supermarkets had a major influence on the way gangmasters operated because they created the market conditions, he said. Price pressure from the retailers was forcing producers into desperation as they sought ways to cut costs. That “creates an environment in which unscrupulous gangmasters can thrive,” George said.
“Supermarkets will want to be seen supporting the Bill because it is good publicity - but they must follow it through in the way they treat farmers and growers,” he added.