Call for decision on temporary labour licences

8 February 2006
More legal news

08 February 2006 | Anusha Bradley

Major supermarkets and unions have made a last-minute plea for government to abandon proposed changes to legislation affecting buyers sourcing temporary labour.

In an open letter, supermarkets including Sainsbury's, Asda and Tesco, together with the Transport and General Workers' Union and Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), urged Prime Minister Tony Blair to ensure the government reached a decision regarding the Gangmasters Licensing Act by the end of this week.

They said if it not done now, it would not be ready in time for the scheduled start date of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to issue licences from 6 April.

The act requires all gangmasters - temporary labour providers who supply agricultural, horticultural, shellfish-gathering, processing or packaging staff - to be licensed. But last year the Department for Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) proposed a number of exemptions in the food processing and packaging industry and completed a consultation into the issue last month.

However, the ETI, a number of supermarkets and others want the act to apply to all. They are against proposed changes because they fear it would cause confusion and allow workers to continue to be exploited.

The letter, signed by 24 organisations and two MPs, states: "The protracted uncertainty over which businesses will be covered by the act is threatening the effectiveness of the legislation and risks causing significant delay. If this is to be avoided, important decisions must be made by the government this week."

It added: "The food industry is united in its view that exclusions from the act must be kept to a minimum - 44 out of 48 respondents to the recent consultation take this view."

The call comes on the second anniversary of the deaths of 23 Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay. The tragedy led to the creation of the legislation.

A spokesman from the prime minister's office said it had received the letter and "would respond in due course".

Dan Rees, director of the ETI, told "It's about time industry had some answers. There is a lot of apprehension in the sector at the moment. It is hard for an organisation to operate with that kind of uncertainty."

Chris McCann, ethical trading manager for Asda, added: "As a retailer, our concern is we do not want any of these exploitative practices in our supply chain."

McCann said there is a concern exemptions will mean the new law is not "enacted to its fullest extent".

A Defra spokeswoman agreed there was "some urgency to meet the legislative timetable". She said ministers from the Home Office, Defra and the Department of Trade and Industry were working closely together to reach a decision.

"The government is taking a genuinely open-minded approach and all options will be given equal consideration. But not all departments have the same view," she said.


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